Morning Business: How Great Is That?

Posted June 20, 2008 at 5:59pm

The Congressional Great Lakes Caucus threw some water on the offshore drilling debate late last week when Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), a member of the group, penned a letter to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), cautioning against oil exploration in North America’s chain of freshwater lakes.

“The Great Lakes are not just a natural treasure; the Great Lakes are the economic engine that drives the Midwest,” wrote Emanuel, whose Chicago district abuts Lake Michigan.

[IMGCAP(1)]Emanuel is flatly against offshore drilling, but Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.), another caucus member who hails from a crucial state in the presidential election, treads a little lighter on the issue.

English, whose district borders Lake Erie, “believes we should explore ways to encourage responsible and environmentally sound drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” a spokeswoman said, “[but] we have always and will continue to oppose drilling in the Great Lakes.”

Emanuel listed the eight states that border the Great Lakes in his letter, and five of those are sure to make a splash this November: swing states Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. A sixth swing state, Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, including Lake Superior, will be home to the Republican National Convention this summer.

The two other Great Lakes states — Illinois, the home state of presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama, and New York — should be safely in the Democratic column in November.

Congress passed a ban on Great Lakes oil and gas drilling in 2005. McCain’s campaign did not return calls for comment Friday, but he has previously said that if the federal ban were lifted, states could determine whether they wanted to authorize drilling.