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Drill baby, drill!

You went to bed with President Obama’s “yes we can” ringing in your ears. You woke up to Sarah Palin’s “drill baby, drill” echoing across the land. That must have been how many Americans felt when they heard that the White House had overturned a moratorium on Atlantic oil exploration in place since the 1980s.

In a move that exceeds anything even the oilmen of the Bush administration tried, Obama has announced that drilling will be now allowed off Virginia and much of the rest of the Atlantic coast. Whilst some Alaskan leases were cancelled, the possibility of future exploration was left open, and other previously announced leases will go ahead. Exploration will also be allowed in the Gulf of Mexico and areas of the Pacific.

The justification is that this is what Obama must do if he is to win Republican support for a climate change bill. But the result will be a bill that will have no binding commitment to emissions reductions, just optimistic targets. And it will enshrine previously announced commitments to nuclear and unproven “clean coal” as part of a “clean energy policy”. It will be so compromised that it will make little difference to greenhouse gas emissions whilst giving a boost to the nuclear, coal and oil industries.

The coal industry will continue to destroy landscape and wilderness – and people’s health – with open-cast mining. The drive to restart uranium mining in the Lakota reservations in the Black Hills will be stepped up. Obama has even withdrawn from a previous commitment to overturn a Bush-era law allowing mining corporations to freely dump mined waste on public land.

Lifting the moratorium on drilling drew an angry response from environmentalists. Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the US Centre for Biological Diversity, said the announcement was “unfortunately all too typical of what we have seen so far from President Obama - promises of change, a year of 'deliberation,' and ultimately, adoption of flawed and outdated Bush policies as his own." He added:

"Rather than bring about the change we need, this plan will further our national addiction to oil and contribute to global warming, while at the same time directly despoiling the habitat of polar bears, endangered whales, and other imperilled wildlife."

Michael Brune, of the wilderness protection organisation, the Sierra Club, said:

What we need is bold, decisive steps towards clean energy – not more dirty, expensive offshore drilling. The oil industry already has access to drilling on millions of acres of America's public lands and water. We don't need to hand over our last protected pristine coastal areas just so oil companies can break more profit records.

As for Obama, the president optimistically claimed: “I know that we can come together to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation that's going to foster new industries, create millions of new jobs, protect our planet, and help us become more energy independent.” The question is, just how far does Obama have to go to get support from Republicans who have no interest in legislation, because it suits them to believe that climate change is not happening? The answer is, he can never go far enough.

Responding to the announcement on drilling, John Boehner, Republican leader in the House of Representatives, said he couldn’t see why drilling should be banned anywhere, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called it a “a step in the right direction, but a small one that leaves enormous amounts of American energy off limits". Obama has opened the door and the Republicans and their friends who run the energy corporations will keep pushing until they get what they want.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
8 April 2010

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