Brownell Under Water

In the Texas Neverland of poor millionaires, a faded parchment heads the list of valuables. This is the Lone Star Resolution of 1838 which claims that the Texas coastline and three leagues seaward belong to the state. Since this area includes the oil-rich tidelands property, the resolution could eventually cost the Treasury $250 billion dollars.

The Supreme Court has twice over-ruled the Texas demand because the three leagues claimed in the historic resolution equal approximately ten miles--far past the coastal limits recognized by the country as a whole. Then too, there has been semantic confusion, for the oil deposits are well beyond the actual "tidelands," that state owned property between high and law tide.

With the Administration pledged to state ownership of the oil land, however, Attorney General Herbert Brownell must now support the Texas claim. Anxious to avoid a Court dispute, Brownell has suggested letting the coastal states take the oil from the submerged land without giving them title to the disputed sea bottom. Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay and other proponents of state-ownership have charged Brownell with backing off the party platform. And those favoring Federal control are grumbling over the loss of revenue to the nation.

But Brownell's plan, despite opposition from both factions, is a temperate solution to an inherited problem. Always outspokenly in favor of federal control, Harry Truman signed the oil over to the Navy last January for defense use. His successor could rescind Truman's fare-well gesture with a second executive order. But to legally deed the land to the states requires a Congressional quit claims bill.

Since tidelands oil was a publicized issue in the recent campaign, the voters presumable now approve of state control of oil wealth. But for those of us who do not, Brownell's plan prevents any irrevocable action by Congress. And his program prolongs the possibility that the revenue might some day finance improvements in education.

The administration can keep its campaign promise without destroying hope for eventual federal control. By denying an ironclad deed to covetous California, Texas, and Louisiana, the government will be able to alter its agreement at any time. There will always be the opportunity to reclaim the revenue if citizens decide that coastal oil should be improving American education rather than lubricating Southern political machines.