Mucking It Up: Offshore Drilling and Mixed Messages from the Democrats

Last week President Obama announced a proposal to authorize offshore oil drilling off the eastern coast of the U.S. His message was certainly a change from earlier statements. Here are a few snippets of the President’s multiple positions on this issue:

This apparent shift in policy elicited similar responses from the President’s allies and critics in Congress. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D, NJ) said “Drilling off the Virginia coast would endanger many of New Jersey’s beaches and vibrant coastal economies.” The junior senator from New Jersey, Robert Menendez (D, NJ), noted this proposal was a “non-starter.” Senators Ted Kaufman (D, Del.) and Barbara Mikulski (D, Md.) joined their New Jersey colleagues in opposing the plan by issuing the following statement:

“While I share the President’s commitment to taking our dependence on foreign oil head-on, I do not believe opening Delaware’s coasts to drilling is the way to meet that goal. It is a simple fact that the United States has only a tiny percentage of world oil reserves – 3 percent – while we consume 25 percent. We cannot achieve meaningful energy independence through our own oil reserves. We can and must focus on building an energy economy that relies on clean, renewable domestic sources.”

Further, Republicans also remain skeptical of this course of action. Senator James Inhofe (R, OK) noted this change in course reveals a contradiction in the President’s position on this issue. Namely that the President has on the one hand pushed forward with global warming centric-policies, which according to Senator Inhofe “make fossil fuels more expensive,” while on the other hand, the President has opened the door for drilling for more fossil fuels offshore. The skeptical Inhofe noted “how does the President square these two policies?”

Thus the confusion over this change in policy course has left both the President’s allies and critics perplexed. Perhaps there is an underlying motive to his current position: President Obama does not want to be perceived as inactive on energy policy, particularly when the price of oil is expected to jump again this summer which could hurt his party during the upcoming midterm elections. Perhaps I am being a little too cynical.