Today President Obama announced a new energy policy which would, if approved by Congress, open up vast areas of the Gulf and Atlantic to drilling, "ending a longstanding moratorium on exploration from the northern tip of Delaware to the central coast of Florida, covering 167 million acres of ocean." In doing so, he relied on rhetoric which, for many progressives, is getting a little tired.
So the answer is not drilling everywhere all the time. But the answer is not, also, for us to ignore the fact that we are going to need vital energy sources to maintain our economic growth and our security. Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates of the left and the right, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place. Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again.
Chris Bowers calls it calls it "hippie-punching," and it's hard to disagree with that assessment:
Are green groups going to be unhappy about this? You bet they are, and the Obama administration isn't missing a chance to play that up....
Rather than trying to placate green groups, the President Obama is playing up how he is charting a unifying course of moderation in opposition to those groups. Much like Blanche Lincoln, he portrays himself as an independent, nonpartisan voice standing up to environmental extremists on behalf of his constiuents.
This in hopes of bringing along a handful of Republicans and ConservaDems, a previously attempted strategy which, as BarbinMD points out hasn't worked out too well so far. For some reason, hippie-punching doesn't make Republicans any more likely to support Obama's efforts.
Obama risks losing some Democrats with this strategy, and not just the environmental groups which have roundly rejected the plan. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg calls it "kill, baby, kill" and he's joined by House colleague Frank Pallone, who is adamantly opposed to the plan:
Pallone represent the Garden State's sixth district, which occupies a long stretch of the Jersey shore just south of New York City.
"Allowing any offshore drilling on the Atlantic Coast is an invitation to an environmental catastrophe that would have severe economic consequences for New Jersey," he said in a statement. "The coastal beaches and ocean waters of the Jersey Shore are environmental treasures that anchor the state's tourism industry and possess special meaning as a part of New Jersey's identity."
He also risks 9 more Democratic Senators. Maryland's Cardin and Mikulski are opposed to the proposal. And there are a handful more who have gone on the record saying they would oppose any climate bill that included a major expansion of offshore drilling.
One of the letter signers, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, criticizes the plan, saying “Today’s announcement doesn’t amount to a comprehensive strategy for dramatically reducing our dependence on foreign oil with transformative steps to lower our oil consumption."
The good news out of this, which is faint solace for environmentalists, is a memorandum withdrawing Alaska's Bristol Bay from potential leasing for the next seven years. It's a concession to environmentalists that's unlikely to take much sting out of the opening up of large swaths of previously protected coasts to fossil-fuel companies. Those companies, as RLMiller noted in an important and often overlooked point, already have a significant numbers of leases that they aren't exploiting.
The previous Obama policy of "use it or lose it" for these existing leases was a smart one, and should have been leveraged before any new leases were opened. That's a point made by Merkley in his statement as well. "[The policy] doesn’t deal with the thousands of leases that oil companies already have, but aren’t drilling on. A 'use it or lose it' policy should be the starting point for looking at increased domestic production."
Those thousands of unused leases, as Grist's Jonathon Hiskes speculates, might be the ray of good news in this: "The crucial issue is whether oil and gas companies decide it’s worth their money to go out, find, and retrieve the stuff. And things could be brighter on that front, because, as Joe Romm explains, the payoff in these reserves may not be worth the trouble."