Saturday, May 1, 2010

Oil Spills and Politics

One oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, no matter how massive, really shouldn't change the long term needs for both environmental regulation and a re-designed energy policy. But politicians like the rest of us are affected by the most recent headlines, and suddenly everyone's political calculations have changed.

Opening up new offshore areas for drilling was supposed to be the bitter pill environmentalists had to swallow in return for a new energy bill aimed at reducing carbon emissions. It seemed like a smart political move to offer a bone to the "drill baby drill" crowd in return for necessary support for energy legislation. And President Obama's initial reaction to the Gulf oil spill--putting an immediate freeze on new offshore drilling until new safety measures can be considered--also seems politically smart. In fact, it seems like having your cake and eating it: he appeased the right with promises of more drilling, while at the same time making it more difficult to commence that drilling.

How ironic then, that according to this Huffington Post report, the provision in the climate bill opening up more areas for drilling now threatens to cost the bill more votes than it was supposed to gain. A number of legislators now say they will not vote for the bill with that provision included. This issue should still be susceptible to further compromise--for example, allowing for the possibility of some drilling but requiring much stricter environmental protection procedures before actual drilling can commence--but the danger is that recent headlines will make it more difficult to get anything done at all. Is there a way to get politicians back to being focused on long term needs?

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