News analysis, by Allison Vale
In the minds of millions of Americans, offshore drilling has been an issue of patriotism, a politically charged declaration of our independence from foreign oil and not an issue of environmental protection. Survey after survey has shown that a big majority of Americans agree that relying on foreign oil is bad and energy independence is good. But differences arise when people are confronted with the challenge of just how we’re going to achieve energy independence and what is the best source of energy to replace foreign oil.
Enter a catastrophe of epic proportions, also known as the oil that continues to seep into the Gulf of Mexico. It may just prove to be the one of the worst spills in United States history. As a result, new surveys are showing Americans re-evaluating their affection for offshore oil drilling, and politicians have begun distancing themselves from the idea.
Recently, the long-awaited U.S. Senate bill on climate change and energy was revealed with significant changes to its original plan to increase domestic offshore oil production. The Kerry-Leiberman measure now gives states the right to veto drilling plans that have the potential for harm, possibly limiting domestic oil operations.
The Obama administration has halted new offshore drilling projects while the exact cause and nature of the current crisis is studied and evaluated, but the administration has made no indication of backpedaling on its late March proclamation of intent to open up large portions of the Gulf Coast, Atlantic coast, and Alaskan coast to drilling. Obama’s March proposal did not touch our side of the country, so many Californians were able to retain a “not-in-my-backyard” stance on offshore drilling (while continuing to drive house-sized SUVs).
Back in September 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger assured listeners here at a Commonwealth Club Climate One event, “I will do everything in my power not to expand, but to actually reduce and even end, offshore drilling, and I will keep my promise to the people of California.” But facing a crushing budget deficit and forced to make swingeing cuts in services, Schwarzenegger had changed his tune. Now, like a number of regional and national politicians following the BP oil spill, Schwarzenegger has swung back to his original opposition to offshore oil drilling. It’s probably a safe bet that the people hoping to replace Schwarzenegger in the governor’s seat – Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, and Democrat Jerry Brown – will be forced to repeatedly address this hot-button issue during their campaigns.
For the proponents of drilling, faith in technology and machinery to safely drill for oil appears to have survived intact even in the face of a disaster of this magnitude. Others, however, believe that an opportunity has arisen to demonstrate the problems associated with offshore drilling and oil production in general in order to continue advocating for losing our dependence on oil from anywhere.
Chants of “drill, baby, drill” may have been temporarily quieted and mercilessly referenced. The Commonwealth Club’s speakers put their own spin on that during a May 18th program called Drill, Baby, Spill, a panel on the impact of the Gulf of Mexico disaster on American energy.
For those of you on the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel, save gas by heading to Lafayette on Monday, June 7 for a chance to hear from John Garamendi, winner of the special election last year to replace long-time Representative Ellen Tauscher. Among other things, he has introduced legislation that would ban offshore drilling along the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington.
The conversations and controversies over offshore drilling are likely going to stay heated up for a while, but we’ll know if long-term attitudes change only after the BP spill recedes from memories.
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