Obama ventures into offshore drilling

Posted on March 31, 2010

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President Obama announced today his intention to open up 167 million acres of ocean off the Eastern Seaboard to offshore drilling leases, though actual drilling would most likely not take place for several more years. Areas off the coast of Alaska and the entire Pacific coast would remain off-limits to drilling, and new oil rigs would need to be 125 miles from shore to eliminate their visibility.

The President’s proposal is a step in the right direction towards developing American energy resources and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, but we should be honest about his motivations for doing so. After getting hammered by conservatives and independents over the ram-through of health care reform, offshore drilling is being offered up as a method of blunting some of the criticism his administration has sustained over the last several months.

The problem is that the areas remain entirely separate realms of policy. I’m glad that the President is willing to let oil companies develop some of our own natural resources, but that doesn’t make my deep concerns about the health care bill vanish into the wind. In fact, the move makes me a little suspicious as part of a larger strategy to get support for a “climate bill” – read cap-and-trade – by placating energy concerns before pushing through a massive energy tax on industry.

The environmental left will hammer him for this, but let’s be real – they’re not going to let this diminish their overall level of support. Sure, the charge will be made that he’s now in the back pocket of the oil companies, but the ones making that charge will be happily pulling the lever for him next time around.

That’s part of the calculation here, and the hope is to pick up some support from the center and the right – at least long enough to get a climate bill through, after which the administration may just as likely change its mind about the whole affair. Actually, you can probably bet that will be the case, as politicians love to have their cake and eat it too.

In reality, it’s probably much ado about nothing. The first lease won’t be up for auction until 2012 at the earliest, and there’s a good chance that most of the areas being opened up won’t be drilled at all for a variety of reasons. So while the President’s gesture is an important one, it’s really just about political jockeying and positioning for future legislative battles than it is about actual energy policy.

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Posted in: News, Politics