President Barack Obama announced his off-shore oil drilling plan today. Count me among the folks who are pretty frustrated with the announcement and its details. I’ll start with what the announcement included, then get into why I think it’s a bad set of proposals.
Atlantic coast drilling would be open for exploration from Delaware to mid-Florida. Gulf of Mexico exploration would be open off the south and west coasts of Florida. The Chukchi and Beaufort Sea areas off the north coast of Alaska would be opened. For now, the West Coast remains off-limits. Additionally, the Department of Agriculture will work with the Pentagon to use more biofuels in military vehicles. Thousands of hybrid vehicles will also be purchased for the federal motor pool.
This decision marks a reversal of off-shore drilling policies that Obama campaigned on in 2008. To secure the Democratic Party nomination and win the general election, Obama distinguished himself from the Bush Regime and Sen. McCain. Now, “compromise” and “bipartisanship” appear to demand something else entirely.
More than just that though, this plan will not achieve the goals the President outlined in the announcement. Opening up these areas to exploration will not satisfy America’s use of oil. We have a mere 3% of the world’s oil reserves. We use a greater portion of the actual amount drilled than that. As of today, oil corporations already have legal access to 68 million acres of land, including 40 million acres off-shore, on which they are not drilling. What will opening these areas do to reduce our dependence on foreign oil? I won’t mince words on this: this proposal is similar to Bush’s off-shore drilling proposal that Democrats justifiably lashed out at. Given the way the last 14 months have developed, I don’t expect a similar reaction to Obama.
American businesses will not be competitive as a result of opening these areas. Europe, China and India are spending billions of dollars every year to develop the energy infrastructure of the 21st century. By continuing to chase 20th century energy sources, we ensure our businesses will be less competitive in the future (to say nothing of the continuation of our broken health care system).
This announcement moves in the opposite direction from which Obama himself identified as necessary during the Copenhagen Climate Summit last December. Drilling for more oil will not achieve the goal of reducing atmospheric CO2 concentrations back down to 350ppm (the current value is 389.91ppm and increasing).
In the search for the mythical “Bipartisanship Grail”, what do Obama, Democrats and climate activists get in return? Granted it’s early in this specific case, but if the health insurance legislation’s disastrous process demonstrated, I find it highly unlikely that the climate and energy legislation will garner the requisite 60 votes to pass the Senate. We’re then faced with an unenviable situation again: Democrats have preemptively included Con proposals without extracting anything in return from them, especially votes when the time comes.
Most importantly to me, however, is the President’s citation of “balance”. He wants to “balance” our portfolio of clean energy and dirty energy in order to “move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy.”
This is the point at which I make note of recent political developments. This kind of announcement, and the upcoming release of the Senate’s climate and energy legislation, is exactly why I pushed so hard for the inclusion of a public option in the health insurance legislation that was just signed into law. A lot of folks were very concerned about the minutiae of the process as it related to those bills. One of the more commonly provided rationales for not including it was, “It can be done later.” I was clear in my opposition to such a position because I believe it was and is a flawed strategy.
I know how dysfunctional the Senate is. I know what the supposed “political realities” of the day appear to be. Why did I oppose the chosen strategy? Because while it might work for health care one day, it will not work for climate and energy policy. Yes, there will be another day to push for a public option. There are no more days to push for the necessary climate and energy legislation. D.C. encompasses a political system that is slow and unresponsive to the needs of the people today.
The climate isn’t a political system – it is a physical system. It responds to forces – some of which have already occurred, some of which we still have some control over – according to physical laws. The climate system does not care one wit how slow or fast the political system can act. It is progressing along its own time-table. The climate crisis cannot be averted by the same type of incrementalism proposed for real health care reform, they kind so favored by the insular political group in D.C.
Obama’s Energy and Interior Departments have, for the most part, begun implementing good and necessary changes to our energy and climate policies. He has a very capable team of folks who I think do understand the severity of consequences that will occur if too little action is taken. This proposal and the degradation of the climate and energy legislation are leading me to now think otherwise. Just as Obama inserted his bully pulpit too late and with too little effort to ensure a larger step toward health care reform was accomplished, so too has the climate and energy discussion been left to fight nearly alone against a well-funded, entrenched array of dirty energy corporations and their allies.
What’s needed are announcements of upgrading our antiquated electricity transmission grid. What’s needed are announcements of viable mechanisms to accurately put a price on carbon – without which the industries of tomorrow are left in limbo; they’re not making decisions on materials to buy or people to hire.
Cross-posted at SquareState.
[Update]: I’ve listened to “progressive” talk radio and read some other “progressive” enviro-bloggers about this announcement. The consensus seems to be:
Um, what?! This fails in a number of ways.
First, if any progressive seriously thinks this announcement will somehow mitigate the right-wing from attacking the President, they need to check themselves into a psychiatric ward. Too many have apparently failed to learn the primary lesson of the Obama administration to date: the Cons want to destroy the Democratic Party. They don’t want to govern. They aren’t interested in people. They only care about gaining and keeping power. They will say and do whatever they think will advance those goals. Do these progressives seriously think that telling voters this year that Obama opened up off-shore areas for oil drilling, just like Republicans proposed in 2008, will secure them more votes?
The right-wing wants to torture people for information that is useless. Should Obama issue a directive stating that he’s sanctioning torture because it’s only a part of our intelligence gathering portfolio and it will mitigate the right from issuing security-based attacks? Of course not. Moral issues have to come into play – the morally correct choice needs to be made by Democrats because they’re morally correct, regardless of the policy topic.
Second, the dirty energy industry has literally spent millions of dollars to slow down and defeat any number of proposals to expand our energy portfolio and mitigate our climate impacts.
Third, if someone is addicted to heroin, do doctors prescribe them more heroin as long as its part of an effort to broaden their drug portfolio? No. It makes absolutely no sense. If we want to get off of carbon-based fuels, the answer isn’t to open up more areas to drill for more carbon-based fuels. The answer is to drill less.
Fourth, as with health care and Afghanistan, Democrats will own this issue for a generation. They can make that work for them or against them. If we pass climate tipping points this decade, announcements like this will be viewed as petty and ridiculous as I view them today. I fervently hope that future won’t come to be. But Democrats need to decide how they want to be viewed by future generations.
Fifth, political sloganeering is nice and dandy, but it doesn’t get much policy passed. The Senate has yet to vote on their climate and energy legislation. The goal, largely set by the Democrats in January of 2009, will be 60 votes to stop the soft filibuster everybody knows the Cons will employ. The question everybody has neglected to address is the following: how will this announcement, or its downstream effects, get 60 Senators to vote for the climate and energy legislation? If the announcement doesn’t accomplish that, then why do it?
Trying to mitigate other people calling you nasty names or lying every day to the American people isn’t reason enough to open up millions of additional acres to a process that will change the planet’s climate for tens of thousands of years. Put another way, Obama isn’t playing 11-dimensional chess. He’s playing the D.C. politics game, which is the opposite of what he said he’d do if he was elected.
Someone else agrees with me, thank goodness.