Oil Spill's Political Impact

Disaster in the Gulf has repercussions in Washington

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The massive oil spill spreading through the Gulf of Mexico is a horrific environmental disaster that could have a devastating effect on bird populations, marine life, and the coastal ecology. But, crass though it may seem, the very real political implications must also be considered. After all, politicians set policy; many observers are already demanding President Obama roll back his plan to expand offshore drilling. Here's what the oil spill could mean.

  • Obama Must Prove Himself  The Washington Post's Michael Shear writes, "The administration is well aware that the president's campaign victory was built in part on a belief among voters that he would do a better job at responding to disasters like Hurricane Katrina than did President Bush." The disaster has left "the political effect on Obama's offshore drilling plan and broader climate change agenda uncertain. ... The accident in the gulf may provide more firepower for the critics on the left who for years have lobbied presidents and Congress to keep in place federal moratoriums on further offshore exploration."
  • Obama Should Have Opposed Offshore Drilling All Along  AMERICAblog's John Aravosis fumes. "Had the White House stuck to its guns, and kept to its previous opposition to offshore drilling, the current crisis would have worked to their advantage," he writes. "Had the President sided with his friends and allies, with the people who got him elected, with his own promises, he wouldn't be in this mess."
  • Is Offshore Drilling Still Worth It?  Writing in the New York Times, Samuel Thernstrom doubts it. "Obama's proposal won't make America energy independent, or even cut the cost of gasoline perceptibly, given the size of global markets. Why did he bother? Because the politics of the moment demanded it. Expanded offshore exploration was Senator Lindsay Graham's price for cosponsoring climate legislation.But that was before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid derailed the climate bill late last week, on the eve of its public unveiling, diminishing the value of the deal on drilling." This disaster further erodes the political calculus for offshore drilling.
  • Oil Tankers Are Dangerous Too  National Review's Jonah Goldberg warns against reading this as an argument for importing oil rather than drilling offshore for it. "It's worth noting that unless you're going to abandon oil altogether, the case for offshore drilling -- and domestic drilling generally -- still has a lot of merit, even on environmental terms. Oil tankers are still way more dangerous than oil rigs. Thousands of tankers traversing the oceans raises the risks of spills considerably more than rigs close to shore."
  • Public Still Favors Offshore Drilling  The Economist's Democracy in America reports the surprising numbers. "In this week's poll, 63% favoured increased offshore drilling for oil and natural gas. In a poll conducted two weeks before the explosion, 63% favoured increased offshore drilling for oil and natural gas. Perhaps that will change if/when the oil starts washing up on shore, leading to photos like this. ... 66% of Republicans 'strongly support' offshore drilling, compared with 21% of Democrats (still, more Democrats favour drilling than oppose it)."
  • Climate Bill and Energy Politics  Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard explores how the spill could "shape the debate over the Senate energy and climate bill." She writes, "A group of 10 coastal state Democrats threatened to vote against the Senate measure if it includes more drilling well before this latest catastrophe. Now New Jersey senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez are calling attention to the spill as evidence that their worries are well founded. 'The bottom line is that when you drill for oil, there is always a risk,' the senators said in a joint statement."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.