Thursday, April 1, 2010
The figure above shows the New York Times graphic of where the administration is proposing to open offshore oil exploration, together with the 2004 map of which states went for Bush versus Kerry. It appears the President is proposing that oil exploration should proceed entirely offshore red states, and not at all off blue states.
I think this announcement should be seen almost entirely in political terms. The President wants to pass comprehensive energy/climate legislation without damaging Democratic prospects in the fall congressional election. He has probably calculated that very few if any Republicans will support him, regardless of what is in the legislation, and he wants to stoke a storyline of Republicans as the unreasonable party of no. The story was front page news in the NYT, and on other news sources all day. I had to be in the car several times during the day, and heard various environmentalist fulminations against it on NPR. So the President has succeeding in getting a full day of news coverage proposing a basically Republican idea, and being opposed by environmentalists. The story got so much coverage precisely because a Democratic president is not expected to piss off environmentalists by championing Republican ideas. He has burnished his bipartisan credentials, and he has removed a potentially potent issue that Republicans could have rallied around in proposing an alternative plan. They will be left to focus their opposition on less reasonable issues. And vulnerable democratic congress-folk in red states have an issue they can trumpet as they campaign for reelection.
But at the same time, the actual environmental damage here will not be very great. The amount of oil is probably modest (though no one knows for sure) - so the climate impact will not be enormous on the grand scale of things. Precisely because the US has already used most of its original oil endowment, the climate damage in burning the rest is much less than what's already been done. Oil exploration is definitely a local pollution risk (via spills etc), but in this case, that risk is all being absorbed by states who, speaking in generalities, want more oil exploration. The President is not picking a fight to get exploration started off California or Massachusetts, were there probably would be incredibly bitter local opposition.
If this is the price that has to be paid to get a decent energy/climate bill passed, count me as a vote in favor.