On Wednesday President Obama stole Sarah Palin's football when he spoke of a plan to open 167 million square miles of offshore territory to oil drilling. This spring, when gas prices inevitably rise, Sarah and the Republicans will not be able to demand that we "Drill, Baby, Drill," because Barack already has. In this at least, opening offshore oil was a smooth preemptive move. But if that's all it accomplishes it will have been a waste--there's no way this will lower gas prices, or make the U.S. more energy secure in the long term. Politically, offering up the coast has to be a bargaining chip to get climate change legislation--whether it brings some balky legislators to the table, or produces some income from royalties that makes the cost of climate legislation more palatable.
While many environmentalists are enraged by Obama's move, I think THEY should steal Obama's football to get even bigger gains for the environment.
Personally, I can't get too upset about the possibility of drilling off the coasts. While I love walks on unspoiled beaches, I don't believe we in the U.S. have any special right to them given our current consumption of petroleum. We have less than 3 percent of the world's oil reserves, and we use 25 percent of the daily production. All that oil comes from someone else's beach: Angola, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Chad, Russia, Kazakhstan-- places without our environmental protections, rule of law, or human rights record. In my mind, keeping the coasts off limits here without dramatically curtailing our consumption inevitably leads to drilling more wells in Nigerian villages, soon to be followed by spills, poverty, violence, and worse. If an oil company spills even a small amount of oil off the coast of Virginia the active citizens of the Commonwealth will force them to account for their actions and pay compensation.