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