Orbital Matters

Saturn Smith
Editor’s Pick
MARCH 31, 2010 12:50PM

Obama's Climate Plan: Kill the Bill or Drill, Baby, Drill?

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I'm having my Jane Hamsher moment.

Having read the New York Times' preview of President Obama's off-shore drilling plan, I want to write every congressman I can to ask that this bill not go forward. I want Democrats to vote it down. I understand that overall, this climate change legislation is likely to contain some very helpful things, but the cost -- opening drilling along most of the East Coast, near the Arctic, and in a further swath of the Gulf Coast -- seems prohibitively high. This comes at the same time that cap and trade has been declared dead, after compromises on federal carbon emissions limits, after Obama's cheerleading for nuclear power, and after the inclusion in the Senate bill of benefits for coal plants that made Senator Bernie Sanders fear this "global warming bill [could] become a bonanze for the coal industry." Obama is also announcing an additional promise to use more biofuels -- those over-subsidized, questionably polluting corn by-products -- in military vehicles.

It's not even death by a 1,000 cuts; it's death by several gigantic gaping wounds inflicted simultaneously.

Yet let me now step back from the edge and decipher this rationally. Did I have a right to expect better action on climate change from this president?

Not really. The Times points out that Obama said during the campaign he was in favor of further off-shore drilling as part of a plan to reduce dependence on foreign oil. I remember him talking about Clean Coal, and, knowing there's no such thing, I guess I heard that and went, but that makes very little sense!, and then dismissed it. Since he was often good enough to talk about solar power in the next sentence, it wasn't hard to brush past it in an optimistic "ah, people will say anything to get elected" kind of way.

Now, however, it seems he wasn't just saying that to get elected -- he's now saying it, and putting tax dollars where his mouth is, because he wants further Republican support for his Climate Change legislation. So the opening of the Atlantic coastline is being done in the name of national security and in the practice of politics, to try and lure those votes that, can we be honest, aren't coming his way no matter what? Of course, the president's also trying to lure conservative Democrats, all while promoting a bill that will look palatable -- job-creating, god-fearing, whatever plays well on TV ads in Arkansas -- in the midterms. So maybe it passes and a few more Conservadems cling to their seats. But at what cost?

Will drilling on the East Coast free us from foreign dependence? Maybe yes, for a very short time, but maybe no. The area has to undergo several years of testing and exploration before it can be leased for commercial drilling use, and until that testing is done, we're apparently relying on 50-year-old estimates of what lies beneath the continental shelf. It could be 2 or 3 years' worth of natural gas. It could be SpongeBob Squarepants' summer home.

spongebobAs if to soften the blow, the president is announcing that before any drilling or sales can take place, studies -- including "geologic studies, environmental impact statements, [and] court challenges" -- must be completed, with the process taking a couple of years before the land can be put up for public auction. Which makes it sound like there's a chance this won't happen, right? If you believe that, I have some offshore drilling rights in Kansas I'd like to sell you.

There was something more honest in the way that George W. Bush eyed the environment. Yes, I mean that. Bush's motives were very clear. He wanted the oil from beneath the sea at any cost. He wanted to drill in ANWR. He wanted to drill in your back yard. And he wanted to do this because oil means money, for the government and for the drillers. That's despicable, but at least it's honest.

My problem with Barack Obama's approach is that he's trying to hide behind a veneer of climate change respectability to announce these changes. He's saying this is "a hard choice." Unlike the brazen "drill baby drill!" approach of the other party, he's clearly looked at the record, tallied up the cost, and decided to drill any way:

This is not a decision that I've made lightly. It's one Ken [Salazar] and I – as well as Carol Browner, my energy advisor in the White House, and others in my administration – looked at closely for more than a year. But the bottom line is this: given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth, produce jobs, and keep our businesses competitive, we're going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy.

I have a feeling this is going to be a pattern in the life of a liberal Democrat for the next two to six years: it's somehow harder to cope when someone whose views I generally respect and support makes an informed decision that stands in stark opposition to my own. Now the decision is: Kill the Bill, or Drill, Baby, Drill?

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Saturn, I appreciate and understand your perspective, but I don't think this is going to matter in the long run.

For starters, it could be all the evidence needed that Big Oil's posturing about pump prices and domestic drilling is a crock. Ultimately, the average American cares about oil to the extent of the bite it takes from their wallet when the fill up the tank. But the bottleneck controlling pump price isn't the amount of crude on hand, it lies in refining that petroleum. As long as Big Oil has no economic incentive to increase that output and thereby reduce their profits, they will keep squeezing every cent they can from consumers and blame it on environmentalists.

They've got so many dogs chasing the tail of "new offshore drilling" that when they catch it in a few years and nothing comes of it, it's going to take a whole new set of lies or the public will see through it. Whether they will be willing to embrace the self-evident is a different story.

Also, Americans aren't going to be motivated toward conservation, it goes too much against our grain. As sad as it is, the culture is too dependent on selfishness to do anything about energy issues until it's too late. We're addicted to fossil fuels and like all junkies, we're going to tap that vein beneath the continental shelf rather suffer from withdrawals. Hell, just get it over with already because we're obviously too distracted and stupid to do otherwise.
You could see some activity in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, as the infrastructure exists to get it into tankers through the LOOP.
Don't hold your breath on the Atlantic seaboard drilling. Smaller deposits, same cost, less motivation. The leases will bring federal "revenues," that, if I remember correctly, are offset by tax breaks.

There are already 5 bbl of known and unrestricted reserves sitting idle, waiting for other sites to deplete. The idea the oil companies are in a mad dash to increase supply and lower prices (and that they could) is insane and the basis for the "drill, baby, drill" campaign canard.

Obama is doing the triangulation tango. A bow to Repubs...who will find complaint with the same ease they blow their noses...and a stiff arm to the enviros. The "middle" will see it as reaching across the aisle of ideology to find a "solution" to high prices...and a step towards the illusion of petroleum independence.
It will not make a dime's difference in pump prices, nor world prices.
It would offset, somewhat and minimally, the negative trade balance the "we-can't-avoid-it" imported oil causes...if the oil cos were coerced to actually use it to increase domestic output.

Pure P-"oil"-itics
buffy appreciates the triangulation, she uses that method to corner rabbits in the yard
Drill baby drill. I have this crazy thing about driving my car. It's called getting to work.
Saturn-"My problem with Barack Obama's approach is that he's trying to hide behind a veneer of climate change respectability to announce these changes." I shudder to think that we actually agree on something but you nailed it here. This is the old "carrot-on-a-stick" approach. Obama wants Cap and Tax but he doesn't have the votes and he can't do another Dem only bill because it will destroy him. So he is hoping that this will bring some moderate Repubs (Snowe, Collins, Graham) along for the ride. I can tell you that just about EVERYONE in Florida is pissed at this and the "greenies" are going to hit the roof. Now more than ever Obama is going to need those 12 milion illegals to become voters because he just threw ANOTHER loyal voting bloc under the bus.
Its a shame Jimmy Carter gets such a bum rap about his presidency. He set a goal that we wouldnt import more foreign oil than we were using in the 70's and then set about trying to build the infrastructure to make the dream a reality. Reagan dismantled even the solar panels Carter had installed on the WH roof.

Along comes another Democratic president. Clearly this one is much more corporatist than Carter, and certainly in the Clinton mold. And he offers our shorelines for drilling. What people arent addressing is that once leased, the oil belongs to the oil company and not the USofA.

Please tell me Exxon or BP will be good citizens. No? They are "people" after all. But they are transnational people and therefore can sell the oil to whoever they desire. With that in mind, all this president is doing is giving a windfall to his newly minted "super citizens" of the oil patch.
Offshore oil, like any other source of oil, is not forever. But it's ours, not bought from people who hate us, and it will ease us through the transition from fossil fuels to the massive nuclear-electric infrastructure of the future.
I share your opinions on this issue. I am devastated by Obama's inability to adhere to the philosophies and intent of his campaign. Guantanimo...still open. Afghanistan...going strong. Single-payer health program....fuck you.
However, I see this (drilling) as balance sheet issue. America - Republicans and Democrats alike - seem incapable of paying (or sacrificing) for what we want. "Put it off" seems to be the American way. And I think that IF we are going to keep selling and driving Cadillac Escalades.....and IF we are going to enjoy long hot showers and affordable air fares....and IF people like Deborah think there's something cool about uttering (and adhering to the greedy philosophy of) "drill baby, drill" - then I think the President is telling us we need to cover our nut. And I appreciate the need, finally, for Americans to cover their nut.
On the other hand, this president seems happy and entirely too comfortable making concessions to a constituency that would have his head on a pike.
Rtwingers claim this presidency is the second term of Jimmy Carter, but this looks more and more like the second term of George HW Bush. Actually, I'm not so sure Bush the Elder would have sent more troops to Afghanistan.

To appease the Right and moneyed interests, Obama sold out to Wall Street and Big Pharma -- and his HCR was a godsend to Big Insurance. And "drill, baby, drill" is another resounding slap in the face to the people who elected him. All this is not only bad policy, it's bad politics.

Obama may pick up a few stragglers on the right, but he's going to lose millions of disenchanted voters on the left, millions who will stay home come November. And no matter how conciliatory he is or how much he adopts R policies, it's for damned sure the R's won't be more cooperative after making substantial gains in 2010.

To lose in a good cause is one thing, to lose in a bad one is quite another. Whoever is giving Obama political advice ought to be fired because right now he is on course to make " One-Term President" a very real possibility.
Is this the same guy who was supposed to be environmentally friendly when he was just a candidate?
Hey folks, I'm not ignoring you, I'm just without the time I thought I'd have today. Thanks for the good discussion/commiseration.
Saturn, what's it feel like to be under the bus?

While drill baby drill is the right thing to do you have to remember is not all about gas. Look at the computer you are reading this on and tell me what it's made up of? Yes, it's plastic but what is plastic made from? Giving up oil is not just about giving up gas, even though that is the place most Americans see oil directly in their pockets. They don't think of all the other things that come from oil byproducts.

Now the good new for you. This is just another scam, and sucker move. You are right about that. They will screw around until after he runs for reelection, trying to play Clinton move to the right politics, then there will be some reason not to drill off shore.

And for all of you who think it's going to kill the planet, or the great view, think about this. If I drill 50 miles off the VA coast what will you be able to see from shore? Nothing.

Remember that little rain storm in LA a few years ago. Had a funny name that started with "K" I believe. Of all the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico that it hit, how much oil was spilled?

Like oil or not we need it for everything from the gas in your Prius to the plastic bottle you're drinking out of, to the tupperware you put your left overs in, to your computer. Even of tomorrow we could make all the power we need from wind, solar or nuke, we would still need oil. There's no way around it.
"Drill baby drill. I have this crazy thing about driving my car. It's called getting to work."

It's true that meeting our commitment to our corporate masters is important--the debt we in so many ways owe to greed, self-interest, avarice, and lust for the getting off quick. At the same time, I feel there are other possible allegiances and commitments underlying our lives. As William Blake wrote, "O Earth, O Earth return."
As much as I hate the idea of drilling for oil, I do understand that we need a bridge to get us to green technology. I wish it didn't have to be so, but it's a common sense, pragmatic approach. Clean coal? Give me a break!