President Obama's March 31 speech expanding offshore drilling bluntly warned that "There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision, including those who say we should not open any new areas to drilling." Almost immediately, advocacy groups flooded the internet with petitions for the President to reconsider his position. I must confess that I ignored most of them, believing that he would not change his mind no matter what public pressure. Instead, I focused my online opposition on the third branch of government, by asking people to comment on the Minerals Management Service's public scoping (agenda-setting) website; creation of a strong public record opposing the plan will aid environmental litigation down the road.
With Oilpocalypse unfolding, Obama may be signaling a shift in his previous announcement: not a 180 degree turnaround, but a willingness to listen. We need to speak up.
- From "Meh" to "A Process"
The White House's first comments about the incident came on April 23, when the sheen was 16 square miles and Robert Gibbs told reporters:
Spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president still believes increasing domestic oil production can be done safely, securely and without harming the environment.
"I don't honestly think it opens up a whole new series of questions, because, you know, in all honesty I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last," Gibbs said.
Compare that to EPA chief Carol Browner's statement at the senior level briefing on April 29:
MS. BROWNER: The announcement that was made of Secretary Salazar about a new five-year drilling plan is the beginning of a process, and... there will be ample opportunity for public input, there will be ample opportunity for congressional and governor input. That is the beginning of a process, not the end of a process.
Obviously, what’s occurring now will also be taken into consideration as the administration looks to how to advance that plan and what makes sense and what might need to be adjusted.
Q Might it be expected to have an adverse impact on expanding offshore oil drilling?
MS. BROWNER: ...We need to learn from the incident. We need to take that information. And as the process for the five-year OCS plan -- public hearings, et cetera -- unfolds, that all needs to be folded in.
That plan doesn’t automatically open up an area to drilling. It starts a process, and an area may or may not become open to drilling.
MR. GIBBS: ...the President renewed his concern about the incident this morning, in ensuring that -- how that impacts any future decision that’s made, again, based on a plan that designates the possible areas to be opened.
White House, shorter: We will listen to and respect public comments made online at the MMS website. This blogger, again: please comment on that website!
- Temporary Moratorium?
On April 30, senior adviser David Axelrod signaled what sounded like a moratorium on drilling: "No additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what happened here and whether there was something unique and preventable here."
Later that day in the Rose Garden, the President announced a review, with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar ordered to "report back to me in 30 days on what, if any, additional precautions and technologies should be required to prevent accidents like this from happening again." Further, "we're going to make sure that any leases going forward have those safeguards. We've also dispatched teams to the Gulf to inspect all deepwater rigs and platforms to address safety concerns."
Together, they might not add up to as much as been previously proclaimed. Rigs will be inspected. Reports will be issued within 30 days or so. Tweaks may be made in the name of safety. Any moratorium will most likely end long before the next scheduled sale on August 18 and before drilling begins on the last round of leases offshore Louisiana on March 17. Obama's Rose Garden remarks repeat his belief that "domestic oil production is an important part of our overall strategy for energy security."
- A Pivot on a Minor Issue
On Friday, Obama had no plans to visit the Gulf soon. That changed within 24 hours.
Obama has visited clean energy producers such as wind turbine manufacturers, biofuel plants, and solar farms. He'll have an opportunity to see devastation up close, personal, and firsthand. He's also shown that he's far more flexible than his immediate predecessor. Perhaps today's visit will affect his views.
- But Won't an About-Face on the Moratorium Kill the Climate Bill?
Very briefly (a longer post will follow), the bill as written may be dead anyway, and liberals have nothing to lose by calling for removal of offshore drilling. Even after Lindsey Graham drops his unreasonable demand for the Senate to put off immigration reform entirely until after November 2010 (Reid has called his bluff on the first point, telling Graham that "it's up to you"), he still supports expanded offshore drilling. Bill Nelson (D-FL) has recently declared a climate bill with expanded offshore drilling dead on arrival. Meanwhile, another moderate Republican worried about oil moving east to Florida's beaches and into the Gulf Stream might lend support to a BP-free bill. Hello, George LeMieux? Susan Collins?
- Don't Waste a Crisis
A return to the Presidential moratorium, first enacted by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 restricting federal offshore leasing to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and parts of Alaska, is smart politics. Public opinion is shifting against an expansion of drilling. A poll at the flaming liberal Wall Street Journal is running 2 to 1 against expanding offshore drilling. More importantly, as the oilpocalypse has shown, it's smart policy.
Our job is clear. First, petitions are now circulating at sites as diverse as the Sierra Club, 350, and FireDogLake. Sign one, sign them all, and update my list with additional petitions and online actions here.
Second, comment online at the MMS website.
Third, call the White House and tell President Obama to return to the Presidential moratorium on offshore drilling in place from 1990 to 2008.
Obama has an opportunity to lead. Will he reexamine the connection between failed fossil fuel policies and his March 31 decision? He can seize the moment or waste the crisis.