During the battle for health care reform, there were two strands to the narrative: Barack Obama disappointed his party’s progressive wing and tried to move over towards the center to center right to attempt to win over Republican votes and the center. And now it appears to be happening once again on the issue of drilling off America’s coast.
But this time the issue is Obama’s call to end decades long bans on oil and gas drilling off parts of the U.S. Coastline. And this time he’s likely to stir up ire among not just his party’s liberal base but a key part of the Democratic party’s base: environmentalists, who long felt the Bush administration had one of the worst records in American history on environmental issues.
So let the donnybrook now begin. Here’s the backgground:
The Obama administration is proposing to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, officials said Tuesday.
The proposal — a compromise that will please oil companies and domestic drilling advocates but anger some residents of affected states and many environmental organizations — would end a longstanding moratorium on oil exploration along the East Coast from the northern tip of Delaware to the central coast of Florida, covering 167 million acres of ocean.
Under the plan, the coastline from New Jersey northward would remain closed to all oil and gas activity. So would the Pacific Coast, from Mexico to the Canadian border.
The environmentally sensitive Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska would be protected and no drilling would be allowed under the plan, officials said. But large tracts in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska — nearly 130 million acres — would be eligible for exploration and drilling after extensive studies.
President Obama announced new leases for offshore oil drilling today with an appeal to both environmental supporters and Republican critics, saying increased domestic oil production is part of an overall approach to the nation’s energy challenges.
“I know that we can come together to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation that will foster new industries, create millions of new jobs, protect our planet and help us become more energy independent,” Obama said in a speech devoted to what he called “energy security.”
Traditional energy sources such as oil and natural gas are needed for short-term economic needs, Obama said in announcing that the government will now allow drilling about 50 miles off the Virginia coast, the first new leases in two decades. The administration also said it will allow exploration of other potential drilling sites up and down the East Coast.
Addressing environmental critics of the decision, Obama described it as temporary and “part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy.”
Along with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Obama also said proposed leases in Alaska’s Bristol Bay would be canceled. He would also limit any oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida to no closer than 125 miles from the shore. Obama cast the package as “a balance” between “the need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect America’s natural resources.”
According to the Wall Street Journal’s blog, environmentalists are split:
Anna Aurilio, director of the Washington office of Environment America, said her group is “outraged,” and believes such drilling will threaten the East Coast with “spills and other drilling disasters when we’re about to unleash the real solutions to oil dependence — cleaner cars and cleaner fuels.”
Not all environmental groups were unhappy with this morning’s drilling announcement. The World Wildlife Fund and the Pew Environment Group praised Obama for scrapping a proposal by former President George W. Bush that would have given oil companies access to Alaska’s Bristol Bay, an area teeming with wild sockeye salmon and many commercial fishing interests concerned about the impact of drilling on their livelihoods.
And later this week, Obama is likely to score points with environmentalists when the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation are expected to formally adopt new regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions and automobile fuel economy. The regulations are projected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil, equivalent to taking 58 million cars off the road for a year, according to the administration.
But if Obama is expecting support from GOPers than he may find he’s in for the same kind of rude awakening that he had in the health care battle. So far reaction from some top Republican’s is negative: they don’t feel he’s going far enough.
Newsweek’s Matthew Phillips gives this explanation why Democrats are saying “Drill Baby Drill”:
This has pretty much been issue No. 1 for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for the last year. Recently, Blue Dog Democrats have stepped up their lobbying efforts to increase offshore drilling. In January, Virginia Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner wrote to Salazar, urging him to expedite the process. Of all the East Coast states, Virginia stands to gain the most economically from the decision, which could be a big win for the state’s new Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and his push to make Virginia “the Energy Capital of the East Coast.”
The move certainly has political ramifications for Obama. He’ll score big points with Big Oil but anger much of the environmental left. What it really does though is underscore just how serious Obama is about reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil, which last year accounted for more than half of the 18.6 million barrels we consumed each day.
If you’ve been listening to the president recently, the move shouldn’t come as a surprise. In his State of the Union address, he essentially made the case that domestic drilling is a necessary bridge to a clean energy future, referencing the “tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.” Even so, the Huffington Post was quick this morning to paint him as flip-flopping on the issue by posting a 2008 campaign video of Obama arguing against offshore drilling.
Obama will likely come under fire from both sides but this again suggests that he is opting to move towards the center on some key issues, which does not innoculate him from attacks from the left calling him a flip-flopper and attacks from the right calling him a liberal who either isn’t moving far to the center enough or one who really doesn’t mean it. But if any kind of ban is lifted, it would indicate a major shift in policy.
But just when the Dems’ base seemed to become enthusiastic again, in today’s political culture where seemingly every issue sparks OUTRAGE! ANGER! (on the right and left) will he find some in his base a little less inclined? After all, to many on the left and right if you do not do their entire agenda that means you are not doing one silver of their agenda.
Or could it be that in the end, when all is said and done and screamed (on the right and left in Congress, talk shows and cable political shows) Barack Obama helps nudge his party towards a common ground with those GOPers who will work with him on this issue in a way that no Republican president past or future ever could?
Here’s a cross section of weblog reaction:
—The Daily Kos’ BarbinMD:
To be fair, it should be pointed out that candidate Obama did say he’d be willing to compromise on this issue in the interest of getting “something done.” But after fourteen months of the Party of No, does he really think that the Republican party will have any interest in working with him on this?
Civil libertarians have long complained that, as soon as he got into office, President Barack Obama appeared to morph into former President George Bush on everything from surveillance policies to blocking investigations of torture. Now, environmentalist may join that chorus of criticism with Obama want to life a 20-year ban on drilling off the Virginia coastline — as well as to open large areas of the Gulf of Mexico.
Obama insists that the answer is “drill, baby, drill” — to paraphrase the GOP — and that such development is needed “[t]o set America on a path to energy independence, the president believes we must leverage our diverse domestic resources by pursuing a comprehensive energy strategy.”
If Barack Obama thought the Left was angry over his expansion of the war in Afghanistan, wait until he sees their reaction to his new energy policy….It seems much more likely that Obama has realized that without cheap and plentiful energy, the American economy is not going to get off the floor and start expanding. That would explain his recent push for nuclear power stations, a welcome change in attitude, as well. Freeing up the coastlines for oil and gas production will add close to a million jobs, most of them high-paying union positions, in the first couple of years of expansion, which will be appealing to an administration that has proven itself inept at job creation.
However, Obama will find himself the target of unbelievable ire from the enviro-Left after making this decision. He just spoke at Copenhagen about the need to curtail this very kind of energy use, and now he’s not only backing oil drilling but ending decades of official federal hostility to off-shore drilling. Expect the backlash to be severe, and expect that to play into the midterms as well.
—The Huffington Post’s Raymond Learsy:
In an act of vision and courage, given the hostage the nation has become to the oil industry, oil interests, and the likes of OPEC, the Obama administration is proposing opening vast expanses along the Atlantic coastline, the Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling.
This is a momentous moment and brings to mind the leadership of another time and another president. In the depth of the depression, President Roosevelt, with courage and imagination, sought different solutions to confront the crippling economic conditions that had descended on the nation. He petitioned Congress to mandate the creation of “a corporation clothed with the power of government but possessed of the flexibility and initiative of private enterprise”. In May 1933 Congress passed the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) Act to revitalize the economically stricken Tennessee Valley in areas of power generation, river navigation, flood control, reforestation and erosion control. It became outstandingly successful in each category.
I don’t understand this at all. Increased coastal drilling would be a small price to pay in exchange for actual congressional votes for an overall energy package that shifts us to a low-carbon economy over time. But any price is too high a price to pay in exchange for nothing at all. This isn’t the greatest environmental crime in human history, but it sure does seem like poor legislative strategy.
They told me if I voted for John McCain the rape of the environment and kowtowing to oil interests would go on, and they were right!
You know, if he’d just ditch the socialism, fiscal irresponsibility, America-bashing, ally-bashing/abandonment and half-to 3/4 measures vs. terrorism,* I could actually start to like this guy. The weird part is how the candidate who was all about being better liked has made it his business to try to piss off as many people as possible.
And by the way, right on cue, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) denounced the administration’s drilling plan, despite its similarity to GOP demands, with Boehner expressing his outrage that the president didn’t go further. What a shock.
—Michelle Malkin (who has videos of Obama being against drilling) writes:
If this were a sincere change of heart and an honest, stand-alone effort to wean America off foreign oil, it would be worth heralding. But as always with this administration, there’s a catch..
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.