Sen. Isakson remains open to drilling off coast

ATLANTA -- Sen. Johnny Isakson still favors oil exploration off Georgia's coast, even in the wake of a growing spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
In an interview Wednesday with Morris News Service, the Republican senator who is up for re-election this year said federal regulators could have prevented the spill from becoming what he called a disaster.
"I am a proponent of the United States becoming energy independent ... of exploring its own natural resources, which includes offshore drilling, but it should be responsible, and the consideration for the environment and the economy has to be paramount," he said. "It's obvious to me that BP did not have a Plan B."
He is a cosponsor of legislation that would require BP to live up to its promises to pay all legitimate claims of economic damage from the spill and sets up an agency to administer claims by local governments and residents.
His disappointment is compounded by the fact that estuaries in the gulf marshes produce one-quarter of the nation's seafood, he said.
"It's a tragedy of immense proportion," he said.
Nevertheless, he's convinced adequate safeguards can protect Georgia's coastline should drilling be tried here as a new revenue source for the state.
Environmentalists, though, are even more resolute in stopping any exploration.
"We have had a consistent position opposing the exploration of oil off the Georgia coast that dates back almost to the founding of the Georgia Conservancy," said Allie Kelly, senior vice president of the 43-year-old Conservancy.
The group has joined others in calling on President Barack Obama to restore a moratorium he lifted in new offshore drilling.
Isakson said he hasn't gotten any indication that the BP spill is at risk of endangering Georgia's coast.
In the same interview, he said he opposes the systematic transfer of water from one river basin to another as a solution to Atlanta's water shortage.
"I am not for interbasin transfer. I want to underscore the word �not.' My father always told me not to mess with Mother Nature," he said.
The tug-of-war over water between Atlanta and downstream users in Alabama and Florida only becomes critical 4 percent of the time when there are serious droughts, he said. One solution is for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that controls the water supply damned up at Lake Lanier to change its operations manual to make human consumption a top priority during droughts. He's introduced legislation that would require that change.
He also has a bill that would give communities credit for any water they return to the same river basin after treating it. He said Gwinnett County returns as much water to the Chattahoochee River basin below Lanier as it withdraws, but current accounting only considers the withdrawal. By counting the returned water, metro Atlanta would have less need to seek other sources that might include consideration of interbasin transfers, he said.

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