Commentary: Obama's offshore drilling plan is odd

The Rock Hill HeraldApril 6, 2010 

In unveiling his plan for on offshore drilling for oil and gas, President Obama resembles the gambler who turns over his hole card before anyone has had a chance to place a bet.

The president undoubtedly saw this as an overture to Republicans, some of whom he hopes will support his energy plan. So far, however, he has received "no thanks" from most Republicans and a kick in the pants from environmentalists.

Republicans have firmly rejected Obama's drilling plan, saying it doesn't go far enough in opening up fragile wilderness areas in the Arctic to drillers. A more likely reason is that it is Obama's idea, which means Republicans automatically will treat it like poison ivy.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is something of an exception in offering lukewarm support for the proposal. He called Obama's plan "a good first step."

Graham, courageously, has joined with fellow Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Kerry, D-Mass., to work on an energy plan that would put the nation on a path to energy independence and a cleaner environment. Graham can expect more thorns than roses from fellow Republicans for his willingness to even entertain the possibility of a comprehensive energy plan.

But it would be a mistake for the GOP to repeat its obstructionist tactics on an energy bill as it did on health care reform. Do Republicans really want to bow out of the debate on what is likely to be one of the most important and far-reaching issues facing the nation for decades to come?

Obama is making concessions left and right. In addition to calling for offshore drilling, he has championed nuclear power, incentives for natural gas and even "clean coal," which most environmentalists regard as an oxymoron.

Perhaps most significantly, the three senators have declared the so-called "cap and trade" policy dead and buried. Cap and trade essentially would have created a market in which companies could buy and sell permits to pollute.

But energy industries hated it, and conservatives had successfully branded it, "cap and tax." And with all the concessions and exemptions to different special interests, no one fully understood it anymore.

If the experts couldn't get their arms around it, neither could the public. So Graham, Kerry and Lieberman are working with the White House to come up with something simpler and, they hope, more effective.

The danger is that Obama might give away too much in the process -- even before the other side has conceded anything. Take offshore drilling: It's still practically worthless as a way to make the nation more energy independent, and it certainly won't lead to a reduction in carbon emissions.

While America consumes about 20 million barrels of oil a day, a quarter of the oil consumed worldwide, it produces only about 8 million gallons a day. Even with additional exploration, an end to the need for foreign oil is a pipe dream.

Four-fifths of the estimated 39 billion barrels of offshore oil along the U.S coast already are accessible to drillers willing to go get them, primarily in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska. And the companies have permits to drill on another 68 million acres of oil-rich federal lands and waters they have yet to explore.

One reason they haven't is that offshore drilling requires an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars just to find a productive site. Once oil is discovered, offshore rigs used to bring it to the surface cost $1 billion or more.

And years would pass before those new rigs could produce their first barrel of oil.

Meanwhile, under Obama's proposal, East Coast states and parts of Alaska would expose valuable shoreline and beach property to the possibility of a disastrous oil spill. Tourism benefits coastal states a lot more than skimpy oil royalties would. Why do you think California opted out of this deal right from the start?

America also would be wasting time and money that should be spent on developing alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar, cleaner alternative fuels and, yes, nuclear power. While we fiddle, China solidifies its stature as the green energy innovator of the world.

Obama may have some new ideas up his sleeve. But while "drill, baby, drill" makes a cute catch-phrase, it's still a dumb idea, no matter who proposes it.

ABOUT THE WRITER

James Werrel is the Rock Hill Herald's opinion page editor. He can be reached by e-mail at jwerrell@heraldonline.com.

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