The Obama Administration surprised many key supporters in the environmental movement at the end of March by endorsing a plan to include expanded off-shore oil and gas drilling as part of its proposals for energy legislation. Now, a very visible oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has created a 600 square-mile slick, leaving disappointed members of the president’s base wondering if there might be room for a change of heart.
The president’s plan would open millions of acres of ocean for drilling and would end a moratorium that has protected the waters off the southern Atlantic coast, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and parts of Alaska for decades. Reversing an anti-drilling policy position championed by Mr. Obama during the 2008 campaign, the move has been widely viewed as an attempt to secure Republican votes for a broader energy plan that includes significant provisions for addressing climate change.
That is a strategy, however, that creates uncomfortable reminders of the legislative drama that played out during the drive to pass healthcare reform: a failed attempt to acquire GOP participation by sacrificing critical components of legislation advocated by political Progressives. Indeed, within hours of the March 31st announcement by the White House, John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House minority leader, charged that Obama’s plan did not open up enough off-shore territory for drilling and criticized him for “delaying American energy production off all our shores.”
Predicting impending devastation for the region’s wildlife, officials now plan to attempt a controlled burn of the Gulf slick, which is reported to be only 20 miles from the Louisiana coast. The administration might do well to remember that drilling rigs can malfunction just as easily off the coasts of Florida, the Carolinas, New York, or Massachusetts. When the air around the Gulf begins to reek of burning crude, perhaps the political winds in Washington may start to shift once again.