On Tuesday, while most of us were busy following Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic meltdown, the Senate voted to open 8.3 million acres of federal waters in the central Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling — 6.3 million of which have been under a congressional drilling moratorium for years. But this isn’t the first time in recent memory that Washington has given off-shore drilling the green light; in June, the House passed an even broader piece of drilling legislation.

The Senate and House legislation will need to be reconciled, and this will most likely happen towards the end of the summer. This worries Congresswoman Lois Capps and Senator Diane Feinstein — both are concerned that California’s coastline will be threatened when the two pieces of legislation are fused.

In other words, this is bad news in a number of different ways.

The 8.3 million acres affected by the Senate measure is believed to contain 1.2 billion barrels of oil and nearly 6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to heat six million homes for 15 years.

For about five seconds, that sounds like a lot of energy. Fifteen years. Here is the problem: Fifteen years is actually a ridiculously limited amount of time. Not even 50 years? Not even a quarter of the average American’s life expectancy? We’re going to endanger our coastlines and lift a moratorium on off-shore drilling in the central Gulf of Mexico, and open up the possibility of more drilling off the California coast, for an amount of energy that probably can’t even heat the city of New York for 15 years.

This bill isn’t a solution to our energy crisis; it’s a band-aid. And a pretty poorly constructed band-aid at that.

Why not, instead of drilling, invest in the advancement of solar energy? We can almost guarantee that the sun will be around much longer than 15 years and, if harnessed correctly, could benefit far more than six million homes. Why aren’t solar panels affordable yet? That’s a problem we’d like to see Washington tackle. Or, if not solar energy, then some kind of alternative, renewable energy. We’re smart people; we’ve just got to be more creative.

Environmentalists are up in arms, as they should be — worried that drilling in areas that are currently off-limits will threaten coastal beaches and marine life in the event of a spill. And if coastal beaches are threatened then so is the livelihood of coastal communities, like Ventura, Oxnard and Santa Barbara, that depend on beach-related tourism dollars.

Long an opponent of off-shore drilling in California, Capps also disagrees with the emphasis on expanding new drilling projects rather than reducing consumption and pursuing alternative energy sources.

“I am deeply disappointed the Senate bill expands offshore drilling into areas historically protected. Expansion of offshore drilling as the cornerstone of a strategy to meet our energy needs is doomed to fail. Feeding our addiction to fossil fuels instead of reducing consumption and developing alternative energy sources is how we got in this mess in the first place,” said Capps in an official statement released by her office.

We couldn’t agree with her more.