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Washington Watch

Gonna Drill? How About Some Novocaine?

Or Is Obama's Policy One That An Environmentalist Can Love?

OK, Love May Be Too Strong a Word. Accept? Tolerate for a Transitional Period Until Improvements Are Realized? . . .After All, That's How You Deal With Your Kids, Isn't It?

by Michael Shultz, Former Greenpeace City Coordinator for Portland and BWC Employee (statements do not represent the positions of Greenepace)

President Obama's recent announcement on opening up huge areas of America's coastal oceans to drilling predictably drew the ire of both environmentalists and the "Drill baby, drill!" crowd. But given Obama's stated motivation for his decision, no one should be surprised that even the educated and informed disagree on the issue.

There are those who would like everyone to stop using oil immediately. That position is justified to an extent, as scientific studies increasingly paint a dire future for the planet connected to business as usual as regards fossil fuels. But transitions of that magnitude take time, energy, and massive investment. The changes necessary will require large scale decision making by our leaders and creative engagement in solutions by the American public.

There are also those who think the fossil fuel party will never end. That camp sees a transition to renewable energy as a threat to our economy and to our way of life. They are also correct to an extent, as some proposed changes ignore that many of the modern conveniences we take for granted have been sustained by cheap fossil fuels. But, at the same time, neither America nor the world can thrive in the next century without conceding that people need to live in balance with natural systems and not opposed to them.

So, on what points can rational people on either side of the argument agree? Here are three bits of gristle for the mind that help frame the debate more holistically.

First, America needs to become more self-reliant in terms of energy production. We should use more of our own resources and lessen our dependence on other regions of the world for our energy needs. A more self-sufficient America means an easier transition to a clean energy economy without the difficulties of being at the mercy of global instability.

Second, America has some of the strictest environmental standards of any of the oil producing nations. This is a good policy (and can always be strengthened). In real terms, as a result of our environmental practices, the last major spill related to offshore drilling happened in 1969. Any new production must be conducted with the same attention to safety. Oil producers must be legally and financially on the hook for any cleanup necessitated by their activities. As a country, we need to make it clear that we do not want to export environmental damage for our own gain, which is what we're currently doing.

Third, the US President is ideally the servant of all Americans, not just the people of his party or of one interest group. So the question becomes, will Obama's decision live up to this ideal? In pushing for a "third way," Obama is bound to upset both extremes because he's not giving in to either way completely.

The President spoke directly to that circumstance in his announcement: "Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates...between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place." He continued by stating that his announcement was part of a larger plan to move from fossil fuels and foreign oil to domestic resources and clean energy. In the President's words, "the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and long term."

The President's motivation seems clear and direct. And ultimately, his new policy can be judged by whether or not it contains three key elements: that all oil produced must be refined and sold in the US, that oil companies are responsible for damages and held to strict environmental standards, and that this will begin a transition to a strong renewable energy investment, production, and distribution plan.

In other words, new drilling should be considered a concession to the reality that transformation doesn't happen overnight, and is also a bridge to a future in which new oil drilling is unnecessary. Obama's announcement certainly has this wide and balanced position in mind.

This page was created 04-20-2010, however the content may have been pre-existing on a different page.