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McCain rethinks offshore drilling

Posted by Richard on June 18, 2008

Sen. John McCain has kinda, sorta, maybe decided that drilling in the outer continental shelf (OCS) just might be OK:

Sen. John McCain called yesterday for an end to the federal ban on offshore oil drilling, offering an aggressive response to high gasoline prices and immediately drawing the ire of environmental groups that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has courted for months.

The move is aimed at easing voter anger over rising energy prices by freeing states to open vast stretches of the country's coastline to oil exploration. In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, nearly 80 percent said soaring prices at the pump are causing them financial hardship, the highest in surveys this decade.

"We must embark on a national mission to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil," McCain told reporters yesterday. In a speech today, he plans to add that "we have untapped oil reserves of at least 21 billion barrels in the United States. But a broad federal moratorium stands in the way of energy exploration and production. . . . It is time for the federal government to lift these restrictions."

Let's be clear about what we're talking about. The "vast stretches" of "coastline" in question are the OCS areas 50 to 200 miles off the Atlantic, Pacific, and Florida Gulf coasts — well beyond the horizon, so no one on a beach anywhere will have the slightest inkling that there are drilling rigs out there.

Oil spills? There were exactly none among the many platforms off Louisiana and Texas that were destroyed during the devastating 2005 hurricane season. The risk of spills from tankers bringing foreign oil to our ports is far higher than the risk from offshore drilling.

And the untapped reserves in the OCS are probably more than five times what McCain stated.

Nonetheless, McCain wants to leave it up to the states. I thought he was really fond of international law. The states have no jurisdiction beyond the 12-mile territorial limit. Under the international law of the sea, the federal government can control this kind of development out to the 200 mile "economic zone" limit. The only reason the states are involved in the OCS issue at all is because Congress chose to give them this power.  

Oh, well, at least McCain's taken a step in the right direction. What could have precipitated his change of heart? Maybe it was polls like this one (emphasis added):

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey-conducted before McCain announced his intentions on the issue–finds that 67% of voters believe that drilling should be allowed off the coasts of California, Florida and other states. Only 18% disagree and 15% are undecided. Conservative and moderate voters strongly support this approach, while liberals are more evenly divided (46% of liberals favor drilling, 37% oppose). [46-37 is evenly divided? – Ed.]

Sixty-four percent (64%) of voters believe it is at least somewhat likely that gas prices will go down if offshore oil drilling is allowed, although 27% don't believe it. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of conservatives say offshore drilling is at least somewhat likely to drive prices down. That view is shared by 57% of moderates and 50% of liberal voters.

According to the new survey, 85% of Republicans are in favor of offshore drilling as opposed to 57% of Democrats and 60% of unaffiliated voters. Those who call themselves conservatives favor such drilling 84% to 46% of liberals and 59% of self-designated moderates.

African-American voters are less supportive of such drilling than whites – 58% to 71%.

Let's see — two-thirds of all voters favor off-shore drilling (and I suspect that's without the pollsters explaining how far off-shore such drilling would actually be), and fewer than one in five are opposed. Republicans, conservatives, and moderates all strongly support drilling. A clear majority of Democrats and African-Americans are in favor. Even a plurality of self-described liberals support the idea!

McCain isn't exactly taking a big risk by changing his stance. In fact, I have to wonder what Obama and the leading Democrats are thinking when they continue toeing the enviro-whacko line on this issue. 

Clearly, most Americans agree with the nearly 900,000 who've signed Newt Gingrich's petition to drill here, drill now, pay less. Have you signed? Have you contributed $10 or more so that you'll get a bumper sticker?

What about your Congresscritter? Has he or she signed Rep. Lynn Westmoreland's pledge to support more land-based drilling, more offshore drilling, and more refineries? The list of signers is here. If your representative isn't on it, call or email their office and ask them to sign. If your representative is on the list, extend your thanks.

 Drill here. Drill now. Pay less.

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