Thursday, April 1, 2010

Team Obama-Salazar Disappoints Again

Just as I wrote a post lambasting Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on endangered species, he and President Obama teamed up to unveil yet another terrible policy regarding the environment. They intend to lift the ban on offshore drilling off the mid-Atlantic coast, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the Arctic coast of Alaska. The plan threatens important ocean and coastal habitats and will do practically nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Obama himself admitted in his speech announcing the plan that the US has less than 2% of the world's oil reserves, yet accounts for 20% of oil consumption. Clearly drilling will not erase our oil trade deficit or even put a significant dent in it. Joe Romm found in the President's own Energy Information Administration's 2009 report that drilling in our continental shelf (assuming that rosy estimates of reserves turn out to be true, T. Boone Pickens doubts that) would reduce gas prices 0 cents by 2020 and 3 cents by 2030. Considering that that greenhouse gas reduction goals likely will have impelled our economy towards much more efficient automobiles, electric cars, and better public transportation (such as a high speed rail network) by 2030, 3 cents will mean even less to consumers than it does today.

The President's assertion that drilling will be done in an "environmentally sensitive" way is a load of bullshit. Defenders of Wildlife has an excellent fact sheet outlining the deleterious impacts of oil and gas drilling on the outer continental shelf, including routine smaller spills (oil rigs already spill 880,000 gallons of oil off American coasts annually), air pollution, invasive species, bird kills, and damage to marine mammals from seismic surveying. The mid-Atlantic drilling area would present a major threat to the already imperiled North Atlantic Right Whale. Then there's the risk of a large spill. If a large spill occurred occurred offshore in the Arctic, we have no feasible technology to clean it up. That would be a huge ecological disaster for an area already feeling the worst impacts of climate change. A similar big spill in the Gulf or on the Atlantic coast would be incredibly damaging to tourist economies in those areas as well as an ecological disaster.

In the above DN! clip, Center for Biological Diversity lawyer Brendan Cummings discerns who benefits rather than consumers and our national security: oil companies and right-wing politicians hoping to bully Obama to the right. Some will argue that this plan will push some undecided senators to vote for the climate bill that will be voted on this spring. First of all, much of the concern with the bill comes from coal states, not coastal states. Secondly, the critical Republican response to the announcement that it does not open up enough areas to drilling suggests it will fail to bring recalcitrant Republicans around. This is strikingly reminiscent of the health care battle, in which the Democratic leadership discarded good policy ideas (like the public option or negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical companies) as much to placate corporate interests as to win votes.

In his speech, Obama stated that it is time to get past the old arguments between left and right and between environmentalists and corporations. Our "pragmatic" President has moved past these arguments by clearly siding with oil companies and their right-wing boosters.

The good news, as Cummings notes, is that smart organizing at the local and national level can stave off drilling, as it has in California and Bristol Bay in Alaska (the exemption for which is the sole bright spot in this shitty plan). Also, several environmental groups defeated Bush's offshore drilling plan in court, so they may be able to do the same for Obama's plan or at least individual leases. But still, this plan will likely allow for at least some additional offshore drilling. It also continues a troubling trend of the President rolling back or failing to enforce very basic environmental protections (like declaring new endangered species) contrary to campaign pledges and basic expectations for a supposedly center-left political leader. Fortunately, I don't think the environmental community outside of the more corporate groups will take this one lying down.

P.S. I posted my piece about the desert nesting bald eagle on Firedoglake as I do occasionally. It received quite a bit of response and was placed on the site's main page. I had a fruitful discussion with one commenter on the EPA's mixed signals in terms of mountaintop removal coal mining. Check it out here. A past post on Afghanistan made it to their main site as well. In the future, I'll insert a link when I post there.

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