Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Offshore Drilling Proposal Solves Nothing

Today, President Obama announced a proposal to greatly expand offshore drilling in the United States. He has already received a good deal of flak, with environmentalists attacking him for leaving our oceans open to environmental assault by the oil industry, and conservatives arguing that this doesn’t go far enough to open our waters to reap the benefits of oil wealth.

After all the “drill baby drill” nonsense that saturated the 2008 presidential election, Obama has called for the same allegedly populist but actually largely ineffective policies that John McCain and his pals were chanting for two years ago. When President Bush had made a very similar proposal in June of 2008, TIME magazine pointed out that new drilling would trim gas prices by about 3 to 4 cents per gallon by 2027. With gas prices fluctuating by 4 or more cents on a weekly basis, I doubt new drilling will score anyone any political points, both because the benefits will be marginal and the effects won’t be seen (if at all) for decades.

So why the hell did Obama do it?

Maybe he was trying to win some points with Republicans, implementing one of their frequent talking points in order to leverage it in negotiations with them in the future. If that’s the case, which I don’t think it is, then it was a pretty bad political miscalculation. Bipartisanship isn’t going to happen, even if the Democratic majority makes an honest effort to incorporate Republican ideas. We’ve seen this several times this year. Max Baucus delaying health care to get Republicans on board, Olympia Snowe successfully killing the public option only to vote against the final bill, Republicans voting in lock-step against nearly every Democratic initiative.

Maybe he was trying to get some leverage for negotiating with Republicans and moderate Democrats for an upcoming climate bill (to be released by Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman around Earth Day, or so they’re saying). If this were to be part of the climate bill, it could have been a bargaining chip in the bill, added by a Republican or a moderate Democrat to garner more votes for the bill. Why would the Democratic president need to propose it ahead of time? It will only increase the likelihood that it will be taken as a “given” in climate negotiations rather than a concession by Democrats.

Maybe he was legitimately trying to increase America’s energy independence, helping to wean us off of foreign fuels and keep our money away from governments and companies associated with fundamentalism and terrorism. That’s certainly a noble cause. But there are a few problems with his approach. First, he said the following:
“…this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy.”
So, he is moving us away from an economy that runs on fossil fuels by drilling for more fossil fuels. I thought he was doing a pretty good job of not employing doublethink so far for a president, but this is a pretty bad case of it.

But the second part of the quotation is where we should be focusing our energy priorities. We need to transition to a clean energy economy rapidly, both to reduce energy dependence and to slow climate change. We need to be making huge investments in energy efficiency first and then renewable energy sources, and supporting the private industries and laborers that work toward those causes and that transition, not the already-swimming-in-cash oil companies that will maintain the status quo and further hinder the transition that Obama speaks of.

I spend a lot of time criticizing specious statements and bad ideas coming from conservatives, but Democrats are certainly capable of them too.

Images: Offshore drilling platform (CNBC), offshore wind turbine construction (Repower Systems)

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