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Posted by on Dec 14, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

A Slippery Argument On Arctic Oil Drilling

It’s sort of like the old saying: when in doubt, leave it out:

Interior Secretary Gale Norton, campaigning to win oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, had the urgency of a saleswoman falling short of her monthly quota.

“ANWR would supply every drop of petroleum for Florida for 29 years,” she told a friendly audience at the Heritage Foundation yesterday, “New York for 34 years, Illinois for 43 years, California for 16 years or New Hampshire for 315 years.”

So how many years would ANWR’s oil keep the whole country fueled up?

Norton balked at the question. “When you look at it for the whole country, you really get somewhat of a deceiving picture,” the secretary answered. She said that’s “not the way this operates,” and said the question “assumes that unless a source of energy is going to meet all of America’s needs then it’s not worth looking at.”

Dana Milbank’s piece in the Washington Post is fascinating because it gives a glimpse of politics 2005 style. We may be in the 21st century but some things never change: like trying to sell a program or proposal by only telling part of the story. Milbank catches Norton first making the proposal sound like the greatest thing since sliced bread — or, rather cheap oil — but then there’s an almost immediate “Never mind!” as she can’t back up the earlier hype. Milbank then takes a look at some additional facts not raised by Norton…such as:

For the record, ANWR’s oil, using the administration’s own estimates, would supply the whole country for 13 to 17 months before it runs out. But Norton’s argument — that it is acceptable to promise New Hampshire oil for three centuries but “deceiving” to ask about the whole country — underscored the tension gripping ANWR-drilling proponents as Congress approaches another climactic decision on the Alaskan refuge this week.

But that was the only instance of such use of partial info, or inaccurate info…or whatever adjectives you want to use, right? WRONG:

In the afternoon, it was Labor Secretary Elaine Chao’s turn. At a news conference at the National Press Club, Chao told the cameras that, according to “congressional estimates,” the ANWR project could create a million jobs.

WHOA! We never heard that before. Why wasn’t that mentioned earlier? Wouldn’t that have possibly helped sell the program? Or could it be that this info was wrong, too?

A million jobs? Chao repeated the forecast to incredulous reporters after the event. “Congress has made estimates that about a million people will be involved,” she affirmed. Is that over the life of the project? “I don’t think so,” Chao said. “That’s probably over a year or so.”

That explains it. Right? WRONG:

A million jobs in one year would be so compelling that even environmental groups might be willing to chase the caribou out of ANWR. But Chao was a bit off. The Congressional Research Service, to which Chao directed reporters, put the job growth in the range of 86,000 to 245,000. The million-job forecast, it turns out, is not from Congress but from a conservative think tank and was based on a far larger project than the ANWR drilling.

Credibility is a funny thing. You can gain back part of it, but it’s difficult to gain back all that you lost. This past week we saw evidence that President George Bush is starting to rebound in the polls as he goes out on the hustings going into more detail in his defense of Iraq policy and refraining from labeling those with whom he disagrees people who want to cut and run.

Laying out facts — even if people dispute them because of an honest disagreement over what they mean — can score you points. Laying out partial facts which cause reporters’ jaws to drop in shock due to the exaggeration’s magnitude, or laying out facts that a reporter or columnist can quickly refute, can lose you points that are hard to make up later…when you most sorely need them.

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