What Will Offshore Drilling Mean for Cap and Trade?

Obama's plan could doom it, save it, or water it down

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As the dust settles after President Obama's shocking announcement that he would open offshore areas to oil drilling, observers are wondering what the move will mean for cap and trade. The Democrats' prized climate legislation passed the House long ago but has been stalled in the Senate for months, despite the "trilateral" proposals put forth by Democrat John Kerry, Republican Lindsey Graham and Independent Joe Lieberman. Will the offshore drilling, long a demand of conservative Republicans, pave the way for Democrat-friendly climate legislation such as cap and trade? Will it doom that effort? Or will it simply make the resulting bill more watered down?

Good For Climate Bill

  • Forces GOP Into a Corner  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports that the White House, by preempting the chief GOP talking point, hopes to "force Republicans into a corner before the public debate begins," to "give some cover to moderate Democratic members of Congress (who love it when Obama picks a fight with his own base)," and to "get some public cred with Americans who want to see the president moving quickly to find opportunities to create jobs. This isn't about votes in Congress per se, it's about perception, cover and framing the debate. It's also a move that tries to get ahead of rising gas prices."
  • Brings in The Blue Dogs  Newsweek's Matthew Philips suggests the move will resonate with Blue Dog Dems, necessary for passing climate legislation, by emphasizing job creation and "just how serious Obama is about reducing America's dependence on foreign oil." He writes, "Recently, Blue Dog Democrats have stepped up their lobbying efforts to increase offshore drilling. In January, [Democratic] Virginia Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner wrote to Salazar, urging him to expedite the process. Of all the East Coast states, Virginia stands to gain the most economically from the decision."

Bad For Climate Bill

  • Obama Just Surrendered Cap & Trade  The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen muses, "As I understand it, the plan the White House has supported for months includes a give and take on energy -- Republicans would get the drilling and nuclear advances, while Democrats would get cap-and-trade." But by giving Republicans everything they wanted without demanding anything in return, he's removed any incentive for their participation, thus dooming the bill.
  • Same Failed 'Bipartisanship' as Health Care  The Washington Independent's Mike Lillis shakes his head. "GOP leaders are already pouncing on the plan [...] It’s the same type criticism we heard on health care reform (even after Democrats dropped the public option). It’s the same type of criticism we’re hearing on financial reform (even though Democrats have scrapped the stand-alone consumer protection agency). And now we’re hearing it in the energy debate — as if the art of compromise doesn’t involve meeting the other side somewhere in the middle."

It's Neither

  • It's About the Midterms  The New Republic's Bradford Plumer suggests the possibility that "this move isn't focused on the climate-bill debate and is geared more toward public opinion. According to the EIA, gas prices are expected to go up quite a bit this summer (probably shooting north of $3/gallon), and the administration may want to step out ahead of the inevitable teeth-gnashing and garment-rending over the issue. So this could be more about the midterms than rounding up votes in the Senate"
  • This Is All Basically Meaningless  The New York Times' John Broder shrugs. "In many of the newly opened areas, drilling would begin only after the completion of geologic studies, environmental impact statements, court challenges and public lease sales. 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."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.