Obama & the Oil Industry
Obama’s Big Offshore Drilling Gamble
In what clearly appeared to be a puzzling reversal of his traditional position on offshore drilling, President Obama this week announced new proposals to expand oil drilling and exploration along large swaths of the US coastline---much of the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico and parts of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska.
Much as the president enunciated that his decision was “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” and further reiterated his commitment to protecting “areas vital to tourism, the environment and our national security,” he has since been chided by environmentalists and politicians on both ends of the ideological spectrum for reckless political gamesmanship.
There has been a great deal of angst and cynicism around the president’s move, and rightfully so perhaps. Some have charged that it was most masterfully timed to assuage frayed right-wing feelings around the recently enacted health reform legislation. Others feel that it was part of a larger ploy to enlist Republican support for a comprehensive climate change bill. Still others contended that it was the president’s way of currying favors with powerful pro-drilling interests (particularly the groveling oil industry).
Whatever combination of the foregoing might be applicable, the common denominator is irrefutably that Obama is really no different than other politicians; that for him just as any other, it’s little about doing the right thing and more about opting for what is momentarily politically expedient.
For the president, even the appearance of this can be hugely devastating. It could potentially erode his mystique or tarnish his brand and nothing could mean more to Republicans than to actually see the precocious and ever effervescent Obama taken down a few notches; from his domineering stature as a mythical, messianic figure to that of a mere mortal.
Besides, it was uncharacteristically naïve and imprudent for the president to believe that this gesture would gain him any reprieve from his political enemies. As ought to have been expected, Republicans and energy industry spokespersons immediately charged that Obama did not go far enough since the administration did not lift the ban on oil prospecting off the northeast and Pacific coasts as well.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican Minority Leader in the Senate, captured the mood of the right wing when he called President Obama’s announcement “a step in the right direction, but a small one that leaves enormous amounts of American energy off limits."
The Republican Minority House Leader, John Boehner, also took time to chastise President Obama. After acknowledging that “opening up areas off the Virginia coast to offshore production is a positive step,” he rebuked that “keeping the Pacific Coast and Alaska, as well as the most promising resources of the Gulf of Mexico, under lock and key makes no sense at a time when gasoline prices are rising and Americans are asking ‘Where are the jobs?’”
The reaction from the left, environmental groups and other progressive activists was predictably vociferous. Some saw Obama’s action as an unnecessary step backwards that only highlighted his dizzying, occasionally stultifying leadership style.
Warning that the prospect of future drilling in these locales, especially the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, could threaten prime polar bear habitats, Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, added that “rather than bring about the change we need, this plan will further our national addiction to oil and contribute to global warming.”
The Greenpeace Executive Director, Phil Radford, further stated that “expanding offshore drilling in areas that have been protected for decades threatens our oceans and the coastal communities that depend on them with devastating oil spills, more pollution and climate change."
Beyond the fact that this move compromises Obama’s offshore drilling campaign position, it is indeed a very sad reminder that President Obama may not after all have truly embraced the hard lessons from the months wasted earlier during the health reform debates foolishly expecting to garner some Republican support. Not only was he unsuccessful securing even a single Republican vote for health reform, the entire debilitating process ended with a terribly watered version of the statute that we could have gotten.
The NY Times reported that by his action this week, President Obama granted the oil industry one of the biggest items on its wish list.” But what, if anything, should the president or his ardent supporters expect in return for the gesture?
Like many people, I am convinced that this offshore drilling gamble by the president will in the long-run, prove another albatross that is indefensible and quite costly.