The President’s Oil Drilling Bait-N-Switch

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The Article

So President Obama says he’s for more offshore oil drilling. Does he really mean it? Would it matter if he did?

Addressing the latter question first, consider President George W. Bush called for offshore drilling in June 2008, when gasoline prices hit $4 per gallon and Congress was less Democrat-controlled than today.

Nothing happened — well, that’s not exactly true.

Offshore drilling advocates were ecstatic in July 2008 when they thought a deal had been reached with green groups to permit drilling off Santa Barbara, Calif. — the first since the January 1969 oil spill there.

New Hampshire Union Leader editor Andrew Cline gushed in a July 2008 Wall Street Journal op-ed: “When an environmental group formed for the sole purpose of opposing offshore oil drilling warmly embraces a plan to drill off its own coast, you know something important has changed in our culture; Americans have recognized that offshore drilling is largely safe.”

But less than a week later, the greens wrote the Journal to correct the record: “(T)o be accurate, the (op-ed’s) title should have read ‘Environmentalists Secure End to Oil Development’ … The agreement struck … is remarkable because it sets a fixed date for the termination of existing offshore and onshore oil production facilities in Santa Barbara County. We see this agreement as a direct complement to our support for the federal oil moratorium. Just as we need to say ‘no’ to new oil development, we must put an end to existing development if we are to protect our coast from the risks of offshore oil and gas development, and protect society from climate change.”

Despite the “agreement” and approval of offshore drilling by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, the greens subsequently got the California State Lands Commission to deny the offshore leases and then, in July 2009, got the California Assembly to block Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to revive offshore drilling.

Last December, the Obama administration actually granted Shell Oil leases to drill three exploratory wells in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. But claiming a shoddy approval process, the leases are being challenged by green groups in the enviro-friendly 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Without wondering whether the Obama administration set Shell up for frustration, my money is on the greens in that venue.

The lesson here is that the greens oppose, and will use every tactic possible on the local, state and federal level to prevent, offshore drilling, regardless of what emanates from the Oval Office.

But then, there are many reasons to question the sincerity of Obama’s rhetoric in the first place.

Despite campaign rhetoric about supporting more drilling, last fall the Obama administration canceled drilling leases in Utah previously granted by President Bush.

The leases were denied for the flimsiest reasons, including possible damage to the habitat of the sage grouse and avoiding the dust and noise pollution from drilling.

Next, and most important, President Obama needs both Republican and moderate Democrat support to get a much sought after cap-and-trade bill through the Senate.

Right now, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham is the only Republican interested in cap-and-trade. He wants to include increased oil and gas production and nuclear power.

President Obama no doubt hopes pro-oil drilling rhetoric will also help him win the support of other Senate swing votes, including Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mary “Louisiana Purchase” Landrieu, D-La.

Finally, while announcing his drilling proposal, Obama spent the bulk of his time talking about how we need to use less oil and wean ourselves off oil altogether.

He spent little time talking about producing more oil. He limited his remarks to a proposal merely for more oil “exploration” — not to increasing production and supply.

Talk is cheap and President Obama knows that. Let’s hope Senate Republicans and moderate Democrats know that too.

False promises about supporting oil drilling are bad enough, but it would be a travesty if they brought cap-and-trade.

Steven Milloy
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