Is Lifting the Deep Drilling Moratorium Smart Politics?

Environmentalists, for their part, aren't pleased

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On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced an early end to the moratorium on deepwater drilling. The moratorium was originally effected to postpone drilling until the government could establish new regulations to reduce the risk of another massive oil spill. The administration has already settled on some new rules, and says the moratorium--heavily criticized by those with an eye on business in the Gulf--is therefore no longer needed. It is not, however, an announcement calculated to please environmentalists.

  • 'What a Coincidence!' exclaims Hot Air's Ed Morrissey sarcastically. "Just as Democrats approach a shellacking in the midterms on jobs and the economy, the White House has decided to move up the end of an executive order that put tens of thousands of jobs at risk." The moratorium was ill-advised from a policy perspective in the first place, he argues--"the only data that has changed since then has been provided by the pollsters, not the scientists."
  • Not Going to Help Democrats Much, Anyway  "Democratic candidates are already dead in the water in Louisiana," says liberal Firedoglake's David Dayen.
  • The New Regulations  "Ken Salazar says the increased costs [with the new regulations] are worth it because it will reduce the risk of a new oil spill," writes Conn Carroll at The Heritage Foundation. "But Secretary Salazar failed to identify how much risk the new regulations would reduce. How can the cost justify the risk if they don’t even know what the risk is?"
  • Too Early to Tell If Lift Is Mistake, observes Caitlin Dickson at The New Republic. "What is clear, however, is that Salazar was under plenty of political pressure to lift the ban as early as possible." One can argue about the real harm of the moratorium to local businesses, but that's only one side of the equation, says Dickson:
Other experts point out that it's inaccurate to only look at drilling jobs that are being lost--it's also important to note the potential losses that could result if the moratorium is lifted prematurely. Oliver Houck, a law professor at Tulane, notes that the Gulf's fishing industry was severely affected by the BP oil spill--and another accident could finish it off for good.
  • 'Ban Was Always Political Overkill'  The Wall Street Journal's view is that "the Deepwater Horizon spill was a tragedy caused by an unlikely series of mistakes, but the Gulf drilling workforce has a stellar safety record on the whole"--the drilling ban was just "intended to appease the antidrilling left." The editorial board also considers the new rules, with "uncertainty" about further regulations as well, "a de facto moratorium."
  • 'Environmentalists Are Not Happy, but Budget Wonks Might Approve'  Wait--what does this have to do with the budget? Explains Ezra Klein: "This means that Sen. Mary Landrieu is likely to lift her hold on Jack Lew's nomination to direct the Office of Management and Budget."
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