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Drill, baby, drill

"I think the term 'cap and trade' is not in the lexicon anymore," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on CNBC this morning. Oh, and he said it while announcing that the Obama administration was opening new areas up to offshore oil drilling. This follows the decision to massively expand loan guarantees for nuclear plants. As far as anyone can tell, these concessions to conservative ideas on energy have not attracted Republican allies for the administration's preferences on energy, and in fact, the center of this issue seems to be moving rapidly to the right.

There may be some brilliant strategy underlying all this, but no one in the administration has seen fit to explain what it is. I'd guess it's that they can say, and show, they're reaching out on the issue, but making these moves when the public isn't paying attention to energy policy seems of questionable relevance to perceptions of partisanship when the debate eventually takes off.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 31, 2010; 1:37 PM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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This administration's relationship to its Democratic base defies any understanding, unless they've all drunk the Rahm/Beltway Kool-Aid that Republicans are waaaaaaaaay more awesome than the DFHs. And that the DFHs have nowhere else to go, which proved to be true on healthcare reform.

Posted by: scarlota | March 31, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

How about these two things are just good policy? Not everything the White House does has to have a purely political motive... right?

Posted by: jsrice | March 31, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone considered that this might not be a political calculation but a recognition that, until alternative sources of energy come on line, we just need more non-foreign oil? Does EVERYTHING have to be seen through the lens of "Who's Obama trying to cut a deal with"?

Posted by: dustyrhoades | March 31, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

These policies aren't aimed at Republicans. Okay, broadly they are, as in the ideas gained traction initially as ways to get Republicans on board with a cap-and-trade (or reduction and refund to adopt the new language.)

But we're past that point now. Any chance of passing the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill will depend on getting Republicans. If not, the whole thing falls apart.

But it will also depend on keeping liberal Democrats onboard. What Obama is doing is making the tough decisions that liberals will hate now so that the liberals in the Senate don't have to feel like traitors later. It's easier to vote for a bill with a drilling section in it if expanded drilling is moving forward regardless.

Posted by: sharbourt | March 31, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Or is this simply another example of regulatory capture? Or, in this case, oil and big biz capture? How about a simple tax on carbon that's phased in over 10 yrs, clear and straightforward for everyone; then make a concession for drilling to put more carbon in the air, and nukes (to make it ever easier for terrorists to get their hands on raw materials for a dirty bomb...).

This just like Dodd's FinReg. An olive branch ostensibly for the opposition but in fact to the real paymaster.

I'm with Ezra- this strategy sure is sneaky, so sneaky no one can figure it out or explain it.

Posted by: Lonepine | March 31, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

That oil is foreign is not as big a long term issue that it's made largely of carbon. What're the petrostates gonna do with oil they decide not to sell us- eat it?

Posted by: Lonepine | March 31, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Steve Benen has a Hill staffer's explanation of the strategery here:

But it's still kind of a headscratcher. Okay, you've positioned yourself in the center-right on energy policy and are forcing Republicans to move ever further out to the right because heaven forbid they actually support anything you do, the end of the day you have, at best, a pretty right wing energy bill. I'm not sure what the point is, unless the point is just to do something. And, sadly, I guess drilling probably still does have a lot of public support.

Posted by: Jenn2 | March 31, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Is Cap and Dividend on the table?

Posted by: jduptonma | March 31, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

I agree with several of the posts above. These two initiatives were announced because they represent common-sense policies.

We are in the middle of a deep recession, we have massive debt, and we import a ton of oil, enriching our enemies.

The nuclear issue is a no-brainer. We need to responsibly consider it as a clean energy solution.

As for off-shore drilling, this isn't a knee-jerk "drill baby drill" policy as suggested by some in the media. The issue of burning oil will not disappear overnight. We have to make real progress on clean energy, but in the meantime, burning our own oil is preferable to burning imported oil. The fees and jobs will also help this country.

Posted by: gorlando1 | March 31, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Maybe the deal isn't with the Republicans, but with the oil companies.

I know, far fetched for sure, but if the oil companies reduce their funding for the GOP, the GOP will have serious issues.

If there is a deal with the oil companies the administration would be crazy to disclose it. Ever.

But I think it is probably just good policy. Besides, Obama said he was going to do this in 2008. Obama is just doing what he said he would do. Given the actions of previous administrations I can see why this would shock pundits, but to those of us who actually listened to what Obama had been saying this is no surprise.

Posted by: nisleib | March 31, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps there is one payoff. Suppose the debate on energy policy gets going and each side puts forward their ideas. The Democratic response is probably "We did your ideas. Moving on, let's ....". The Republican response is probably "We don't have any more ideas, so NO, NO, NO to doing anything more."

The Republican can repeat the obstructionism and outrage they used in the health care debate, of course. But how many times can they do this before it begins to look to the average voter that the problem with getting things done in Washington is the Republicans and their inability to compromise?

Extremism in defence of inaction has little appeal to middle-of-the road voters (I hope).

Posted by: adonsig | March 31, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

I don't quite think that this is a "sellout" from Obama -- he has always said and continues to say that drilling can be part of the answer, but that renewables and reducing carbon emissions etc. also need to be included. But if he offers something like this upfront without winning any GOP votes for comprehensive climate change legislation...well, then he ends up just looking like a naive dupe.

Posted by: vvf2 | March 31, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

As a Senator from Illinois, which is the France of this country on nuclear power, I never thought he'd turn out to be on the left-wing fringe on energy policy. I'm glad to learn that my perception on this was right.

The false choice that the energy debate has taken, that we have to "choose" between offshore drilling and developing new sources of energy is totally absurd, and always has been. Just like we watched and built standard def TV's right up until HDTVs reached scale and became affordable, we can do the same with energy.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | March 31, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

It is all because gas prices have been going up and will surge this summer - he wants to be able to say he did and is doing something

Posted by: Holla26 | March 31, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

How much further right can the issue move? Do we start whaling again?

Posted by: boloboffin1 | March 31, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

You can be sure that Obama has an agenda that will complement his socialist administration. There will be "fish-hooks" galore before the first barrel of oil is lifted from America's new frontier. This is another "shell-game" that we have not figured out yet...but, we will!



Posted by: my4653 | March 31, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

"Okay, you've positioned yourself in the center-right on energy policy and are forcing Republicans to move ever further out to the right because heaven forbid they actually support anything you do, the end of the day you have, at best, a pretty right wing energy bill."

Indeed. I don't know what to make of this plan.

From the NYT article: "Much of the oil and gas may not be recoverable at current prices and may be prohibitively expensive even if oil prices spike as they did in the summer of 2008."

Once again, we're back to trying to exploit areas that most likely aren't worth exploiting unless oil prices are already absurdly high (and maybe not even then). Institutionalizing a reliance on boutique oil doesn't make for good energy policy. And giving our coastal waters away to Exxon doesn't make for good environmental policy. So, I don't see any evidence that this is a policy-driven decision. Which, in my mind, drastically undermines Obama's reputation as a technocrat.

Posted by: slag | March 31, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I'll join the group of commenters who are hoping that there's a strategy here beyond "give in return for nothing."

As for commenters saying that this is done because the policies themselves are good ones, you're missing the point. Carbon regulation is good too, so why not use the former to build support for the latter?

Posted by: etdean1 | March 31, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

There are 3 fundamental questions regarding oil drilling.
The first is the environmental cost.
The second is how much will the produced oil reduce gas prices and when
The third is how much of our foreign oil dependence will the produced oil offset.
The first question is pretty easy to answer when comparing disasters with improvements in technology.
The second and third are questions drilling proponents decidedly do *not* want to answer. Take ANWR in Alaska. The estimates range from 20 to 25 years of production if full scale drilling was allowed. That production would constitute roughly FIVE PERCENT of our current usage. So in total there is likely only ONE YEAR worth of oil there.
Is that really worth the possible destruction of such a pristine habitat?
This link gives good data about the reserves in ANWR.

Posted by: rpixley220 | March 31, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Does anybody else move on to the next comment at the first appearance of the word socialist? To me it's a dead-on indicator that the poster is repeating talking points and hasn't much of a clue. The Republican War on Words marches on...

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 31, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

DFHs have nowhere else to go, which proved to be true on healthcare reform. When the dems get whipped you'll see what the DFH were up to.

Posted by: obrier2 | March 31, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Considering how he just, even wih its flaws, jus accomplished the dems holy grail of healthcare I don't know why people would question him. In a year or so we may come to realize him as the next great negotiator

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 31, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Considering how he just, even wih its flaws, jus accomplished the dems holy grail of healthcare I don't know why people would question him. In a year or so we may come to realize him as the next great negotiator

Posted by: visionbrkr | March 31, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

all of the good things that president obama is doing, will pay off, and we will be a better nation for his having been our president.
if the legislation and good works that he is enacting to make things better, are not appreciated at this time, they will be in the future, as part of the legacy of a great president, who made the right choices for the 21st century.

he is one of the few leaders who i really believe, ultimately cares more about what happens to the country, than the winds of his own political fortune.
how many other leaders could one say that about?

like, none.

Posted by: jkaren | March 31, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

"There may be some brilliant strategy underlying all this, but no one in the administration has seen fit to explain what it is."

It's called being responsible and securing the energy that this economy will need to recover.

Credit where credit is due.

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | March 31, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

"securing the energy that this economy will need to recover."

Uh, no. Unless you have a box of dehydrated oil rigs and some good surveys in your basement.

At very best, this has a 10-year lead time, and that's dependent upon the economic viability of surveys, test drilling, etc. It also puts exploration of a bunch of existing leases on hold.

It basically takes the wind out of the sails of the drill-baby-drill brigade without there being any immediate drilling.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | March 31, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum, and everyone else seem totally mystified by this. It seems simple enough to me: Lindsey Graham is in the driver's seat on energy policy. Unlike health care, which had a lot of carrots for average people and support among rank-and-file dems, energy policy is all spinach and no cake, and has a lot of powerful detractors (Exxon, etc) and very few powerful supporters or benificiaries (the alternative energy industry? Environmentalists? come on.)

The point is that an energy bill is never going to pass under reconciliation. Dems are not going to vote in higher energy prices for Americans without bi-partisan cover. So that is why Lindsey Graham is in the driver seat. If Lindsey Graham says he wants coastal drilling and nuclear power RIGHT NOW or he will not move forward with a bill, Lindsey Graham gets it right now. And Lindsey Graham knows there is very little leverage that the administration has over him. Either they get his support on a bill or there is no bill. And the clock is ticking until November, when the math will become that much harder.

I don't know that this is what is behind todays announcement, but I'd be willing to bet money on it. I wonder if Ezra et. al. are playing dumb because they don't want to state the obvious.

Posted by: nathanlindquist | March 31, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Maybe they are doing these things because they are good conservative ideas. This is very serious triangulation.

If the GOP wants to oppose, the only things that are left are going to be so spectacularly nutty that the public won't support them.

Posted by: zosima | March 31, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Alright...any better ideas for an energy policy strategy?

Posted by: gocowboys | March 31, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

"At very best, this has a 10-year lead time..."

And your point?

Unless you belive we won't need the energy ten years from now, you don't have an argument.

Also, this is but one facet of responsible energy policy. The push for more nukular power is but another. And if any of the green technologies ever become economically viable, they can also be a part of the solution.

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | March 31, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

If I remember correctly from the "drill-baby-drill" days of 2008, the other key roadblock that made offshore drilling a 10-years-hence issue, was the shortage of vessels to do the test-drilling, the lack of capacity for builders to ramp up, and the shortage of rigs and capacity to build them as well.

So net-net, this is good politics because it gives right-leaning independents permission to vote Democratic in '10 and for Obama in '12, and it's good policy because the drilling the administration would "allow" will likely never take place, or take place at such a small scale as to underperform as an environmental threat.

Posted by: Rick00 | March 31, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

How to Pass Legislation when Democrats control the White House and both Chambers of Congress, by Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel:

1. Unilaterally take progressive ideas "off the table" (single payer, carbon tax, et. Al)

2. Have Nancy Pelosi pass an impressive, yet still imperfect bill through the House months ahead of any concrete action in the Senate.

3. Allow Republicans to take you for a ride in committee (Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham) killing time until they ultimately abandon negotiations shortly after you...

4. Adopt positions you were vocally opposed to in the campaign (individual mandate, off-shore drilling)

5. Be completely caught off guard by Republican disinformation campaign.

6. Compromise on the compromise (public option, cap and trade).

7. Insult your political base.

8. Have the Senate pass a further watered down version of the House bill which relies heavily on ideas previously championed by Republicans.

9. Let the media declare all chances of successfully passing this bill gone.

10. Have the House hold their nose and get you a hollow political victory while jeopardizing the re-election chances of the very people who helped you get it.

Posted by: brooklynpsu | March 31, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Agree with those who are saying the administration seems to be pursuing these policies because they seem to be right, or at least not wrong, on the merits. Don't know anything about offshore drilling, but building more nuclear power capacity seems like the right thing to do, given climate change. If clean, renewable energy makes nuclear power unnecessary, the capacity doesn't have to be used, but it seems prudent to build it, in case.

Posted by: roublen | March 31, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

It's nice to see him showing us all that there are more similarities than differences between the left and the right. Two sides of the same coin, together serving the same interests.

We're gonna need some extra oil after we nuke Iran.

Posted by: MrTracker | March 31, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

The problem with off shore drilling and nuclear plants is that they're not a fully fleshed out strategy. I wouldn't be terribly pissed off if the Administration did this paired with long term policies to reduce our reliance on oil (increase solar and wind, invest in new tech, cap & trade to reduce demand for carbon, incentivize retrofitting older buildings).

Hopefully this means we're going to see a push for energy policy from the WH, but it seems like they're on FinReg now, which makes me worried that these compromises will be forgotten by the time they start seriously talking about energy.

Posted by: MosBen | March 31, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

We interrupt your regularly scheduled talking points to observe that, according to the Minerals Management Service assessment, most of the resource off the Atlantic coast is natural gas, not oil. So the effect on oil imports and gasoline prices will be negligable. Natural gas does, however, have potential to displace coal.

Posted by: tl_houston | March 31, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

If Obama can expand drilling over these areas by executive order, why didn't Bush do it?

Posted by: gdcassidy1 | March 31, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

"Unless you belive we won't need the energy ten years from now, you don't have an argument."

You suggested that the decision is "securing the energy that this economy will need to recover."

If the economy hasn't recovered by the 2020s, then the South Carolina coastline will be the least of your worries.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | March 31, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

"...the shortage of vessels to do the test-drilling, the lack of capacity for builders to ramp up, and the shortage of rigs and capacity to build them as well."

Also, riggers. Those things don't run themselves. When I looked into this in 2008, and asked friends in the business, they talked about years of waiting for both plant and manpower, thanks to demand off the coast of Nigeria.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | March 31, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

"I'd guess it's that they can say, and show, they're reaching out on the issue, but making these moves when the public isn't paying attention to energy policy seems of questionable relevance..."

Maybe it's to get attention focused on the issue.

Posted by: elt28 | March 31, 2010 7:09 PM | Report abuse

One by one the layers of the progressive campaign platform are being stripped away and the scared Clinton moderate inside of Barack Obama is being outed.

And off-shore drilling has always been a pillar of his energy proposal. In fact, the nuclear guarantees (at which he scratched his head on the campaign trail) is much more out of the blue to me than anything else.

As I have been fearing, the president (whom I still openly support) seems ultimately more concerned with energy independence at all costs than with the so-very-necessarily green energy independence he initiated early last year.

Just one more enthused base the administration chose to alienate and then squander.

C'est la vie at this point.

Posted by: BryanTap | March 31, 2010 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Remember when gas went from under $2.00/gal to over $4.00 per gallon? Groceries also doubled. Everything alse also went up. That's because most stuff we buy is trucked around and/or depends on trucking for it's production. The day the previous president s=tarted discusion of removing some restrictions on offshore drilling, the price of gas started to fall and eventually went below $2.00 again.

I don't agree with everything (read anything) our current president does but he is doing this so that the economy doesn't tank. I didn't think he had it in him.

Cudos to president Obama (Ughh)

Posted by: drill_baby_drill | March 31, 2010 8:28 PM | Report abuse

The President needs to propose any of the reasonable Republican proposals and then watch the Republicans fall over themselves trying to denounce it. The Republicans proposed mandates back in the Clinton days as an antidote to high healthcare costs. They've gone beyond themselves to bedevil mandates under Barack Obama. McCain and Palin were pushing cap and trade before Obama decided to - then they all started hating cap and trade. The Republicans were falling over themselves about drill baby drill only to start hating drill baby drill. The President needs to continue exposing their rank hypocrisy.

Posted by: ATLGuy | March 31, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

I agree with jsrice. This is just good policy. It is about time we had an Administration that acted based on the right thing to do rather than political chess. This is what I voted for: do the right thing, and let the chips fall where they may.

Posted by: jimberry | April 1, 2010 7:12 AM | Report abuse

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