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.

Is Global Warming a Big Deal?

David Ropeik provides an interesting argument about the link between how we perceive risk and how it relates to our perceptions of global warming. As I wrote in earlier posts, we tend to use information shortcuts and running tallies of how well the political parties have met our needs on environmental issues which in turn help define how we perceive the problem of global warming. The article provides a nice summary of the current state of polling on perceptions of global warming.

The Stony-Brook-Millstone Watershed: Too much pollution

The Stony-Brook-Millstone Watershed has recently released a sobering report on water quality within the watershed basin area which covers a substantial portion of the waterways in central New Jersey. The report points out that high levels of bacteria are being absorbed in the water ways. Nevertheless some simple things can be done by individuals to help fix this problem. Namely pick up after your pets, avoid using fertilizers, and if you have a septic system make sure there is no leakage coming from your tank.

You can read the full report here.

A look at the policy process and budgeting: EPA Budget Hearings

Over the next couple of days, the Senate Environmental Public Works (EPW) committee will conduct hearings on the EPA’s budget for fiscal year (FY) 2011. What’s interesting from the hearings is that it provides an inside look at how policymakers are not only debating the issue, but also how they are constructing arguments on facts that best suite their existing positions on climate change. This is nothing new in terms of the political process, but does highlight some of the challenges where science and politics converge in developing public policy.

Highlights of the request include:

  • The overall request for FY2011 is approximately a $10B budget for the EPA.
  • The request includes a reduction to overall agency funding by about $300M from FY2010 while reallocating about $56M (includes new funding of $43M) for programs to regulate and control greenhouse gas emissions.
  • There have been concerted efforts led by Senator Linda Murkowski (R-AK) and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) to introduce legislation to strip from the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  The budget process for the EPA serves as a forum for these legislators to block, or water-down, regulatory efforts by the EPA.

Nevertheless, from watching the hearings there are many questions left unanswered:

  • Should the EPA regulate carbon dioxide or is it the role of Congress?
  • Why do EPW senators provide such differing causal arguments about climate change ?
  • How does the public perceive the arguments for or against climate change? Do public perceptions matter?
  • How can we redefine this issue beyond the current rhetoric (e.g. partisanship, personal attacks, binary divisions in the global context of “us versus them,” etc.)? Has the debate become too cavalier?
  • Do you feel the EPW and EPA are representing our interests or the interests of special groups who would benefit from this type of legislation?
  • Should government regulate industries over environmental issues or develop markets and provide subsidies for industries to compete in environmental markets?
  • What are some of the limits of environmentalism in shaping environmental policy?
  • Why does Senator Inofe have an issue with political scientists?
  • How important is using political arguments around scientific certainty in order to develop competing policies to regulate carbon dioxide?

Outliers from Snowmageddon

In between shoveling snow and staying warm on this snowy day, I found a few posts worth checking out.

  • “Cap and Trade” has already become a campaign issue for vulnerable Democrats in the upcoming 2010 midterm elections. A student of mine who came across this video produced by the VA GOP targeting Democratic members of Congress Rick Boucher (VA, 9th ) and Tom Perrillo’s (VA, 5th) who both supported the Waxman-Markey bill this past summer and who represent districts that John McCain won in 2008.
  • Ben Profferror writes about the benefits of civility in debating global warming.
  • The NY Times finds the recent winter storms hitting the mid-atlantic region are a result of global warming patterns.
  • Kathy Nieland discusses the push by the SEC for companies to disclose the risks of climate change associated with current business practices.
  • Christina Larson finds the apparent “green-tech war” between the U.S. and China is a bit overblown.
  • Lastly, Audi provides a tongue-in-cheek approach to the greening of America

“Cap and Trade” or “Green Jobs”: Perhaps We Can Have Both?

To resuscitate climate change legislation in Congress, Climate bill backers have begun to add a job creation theme to how they frame the issue. What results from this push remains to be seen but from my perspective, it is not a bad strategy. Typically, the public is favorable to the idea of climate change legislation if the phrase “Cap and Trade” is not used in describing it and if the concept of job creation is coupled with this policy. We will have to wait and see how the public perceives this re-framing of the policy.

Environmental Outliers

Today’s Environmental Outliers:

  • Reuters discusses the likely policy alternatives for Congress in dealing with climate change legislation in 2010.
  • Environmental ministers from BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries met in India to discuss the post Copenhagen scenario on climate change.
  • Pew finds global warming ranks last in immediate priorities for the U.S. government to tackle.
  • The lead climate change negotiator from China notes he has an “open mind” on whether climate change is caused by humans .
  • Bill Gates discusses his concerns that funding for climate policies will come at the expense of health funding.
  • Amy Harder gives an assessment of President Obama’s efforts on energy and environmental policies.
  • The Wall Street journal opines on the continuing glacier-gate controversy