From guardian.co.uk on August 5, 2008 by Maura Kelly: "On Friday, saying it was time for a compromise on the energy issue, presidential hopeful Barack Obama voiced his tentative support for a bipartisan proposal calling for the expansion of offshore oil drilling, along with the development of alternative fuels and more efficient motor vehicles. Soon after, Obama implied that his willingness to allow the drilling in Florida "wasn't really a new position". But, of course, it is.
As recently as late June, he said that, in order to protect the US coastline, he would enforce a drilling moratorium that has been in place since 1981. (Democratic leaders and environmentalists have supported that ban for years.) What's not new: Obama's interest in working with Republicans to move the country toward greater energy independence, and his eagerness to appease voters. That's why he made a gesture that many of them believe would lower prices at the pump.
While I've been or more less accepting of Obama's float toward the centre as a political imperative as the election gets closer, this is one move I can't support. Reversing his position on campaign financing, for example, is one thing - a tactic that upset some of his supporters but won't necessarily have any kind of permanent or global repercussions. Offshore drilling, on the other hand, is sure to contaminate marine life and the water along Florida's coast, produce a number of small oil spills and, ultimately, contribute to the problem of global warming. A catastrophic oil spill is also a possibility.
Now, it's true that Obama said that any compromise he would agree to would have to involve "a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage" - which sounds pretty, doesn't it? Too bad the reality is much uglier.
"There is no such thing as environmentally friendly drilling," says Greenpeace USA spokesperson Michael Crocker. After noting that damage to drills caused between seven and nine million gallons of oil to be spilled during Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, Crocker says: "There's a real irony when it comes to offshore drilling. It's done so we can get more oil in the hopes of reducing gas prices. In the meantime, we keep burning fossil fuels, which causes more global warming, which leads to more hurricanes, which lead to more oil lost in spills - and yet, drilling does almost nothing to alleviate the cost of gasoline."
Why doesn't it? "There's simply not very much oil on America's shorelines," he says. "Government studies have indicated that it will take a decade for any offshore drilling to pay off even minimally - and even then, prices will only be reduced by a few cents per gallon."
It's irresponsible of Obama to be cavalier about an issue that is of so much importance to the environmental health of the country, and the world. He should have stuck to his guns and insisted on finding cleaner alternatives that would truly make the US energy independent, instead of trying to placate short-sighted American car owners.
To be fair, Obama did point out that it was "important to recognise if you start drilling now you won't see a drop of oil for 10 years, which means it's not going to have a significant impact on short-term prices. Every expert agrees on that." And yet, that's really the fine print. What most voters will be paying attention to are the headlines announcing his willingness to let offshore drilling move forward - as I'm sure he and his strategists know.
And of course, most voters don't care about contaminating the shoreline. According to a Rasmussen poll released on July 29, 57% percent of Americans favour offshore drilling (only 29% are opposed). And why is that? Because nearly the same number - 56% - believe gas prices would be likely to fall if the ban is lifted.
So while Obama is wrong to waver on this issue - he's punting on his duty as a public steward - voters are wrong, too. Many Americans might be willing to watch the new "green" cable channel, eat organics and recycle (although not in Houston, Texas), but they've got to start supporting the environmental movement in truly meaningful ways, not just trendy ones.
They should start by getting over fuel prices and realising that one of the things we're paying for at the pump is our role in accelerating the pace of global warming. What voters should be clamouring for is not cheaper gas, but a truly longterm and sustainable solution - one that emphasises new, clean forms of energy and fuel-efficient transportation alternatives.
About this articleClose Maura Kelly: Barack Obama caves on offshore oil drilling
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk on Tuesday August 05 2008. It was last updated at 14:00 on August 05 2008. "