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Offshore drilling sleight of hand

Posted by Richard on April 1, 2010

Don't get too excited about the news that President Obama has embraced "Drill here, drill now." The initial MSM reports sounded good, but just a bit of digging reveals this to be the administration's April fool's joke. Or, as the Competitive Enterprise Institute put it, "sleight of hand":

Most of Alaska, all of the Pacific coast, and other areas that could yield affordable energy for American consumers are still closed off from any development. Rather than a painful compromise, this is therefore actually a step back from what the American people thought had been achieved in 2008.

"When gas reached four dollars a gallon, the American people were shocked to discover that most of our domestic oil reserves were locked up by the federal government. They demanded change," said Competitive Enterprise Institute Director of Energy Policy Myron Ebell.

In 2008, President George W. Bush revoked his father's executive order barring new offshore energy development and the Department of the Interior prepared a five year offshore leasing plan. The Democratic Congress co-operated by dropping the long-time moratorium which banned offshore oil production everywhere except in the western Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean off Alaska. The Obama administration, however, suspended the Interior plan and delayed a planned lease auction scheduled for 2011. It is now proposing a new plan that is much more limited.

So in a nutshell, the areas they're bragging about opening up were already open (pre-Obama). And some of the areas they're closing down were already open, too. The net effect is to reduce access to domestic reserves, not increase it. 

The editors of National Review Online think they know the true purpose of this new plan:

The limited drilling is clearly being offered as a bargaining chip, a way to give soft Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and oil-state Democrats such as Mary Landrieu (D., La.) cover in exchange for their votes on legislation that caps or taxes emissions. Graham and Landrieu were members of the Gang of Ten, the senators who proposed limited drilling in exchange for lots of new subsidies for green-energy companies and, in the process, nearly derailed the effort that undid the congressional ban. Unsurprisingly, the Obama's drilling proposal looks a lot like the one the Gang of Ten put on the table. … We argued at the time that the amount of oil that the Gang's proposal might yield wouldn't be worth the cost to taxpayers of even more subsidies for politically influential but commerically lame green industries. It certainly wouldn't be worth it now that carbon caps have been added to the broader policy mix.

Just like "no middle-class tax increase," "reducing the deficit," "shovel-ready jobs," and "transparency," the claim of "opening coastal waters" deserves a Joe Wilson type of response. 

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