Friday :: Sep 12, 2008

Offshore Oil Drilling: Pelosi Punts


by Turkana

One thing you can always count on from Nancy Pelosi's "leadership" of the Democratic Congress: when there's an important, controversial issue, and it's a question of principle or politics, principle will not prevail. On August 10, the San Francisco Chronicle reported this:

House Republicans, who've been hounding Speaker Nancy Pelosi for weeks over her refusal to allow a vote on new domestic oil drilling, are plotting a high-stakes confrontation this fall that could spark a shutdown of the federal government.

But...

Pelosi is holding firm to her view that more drilling won't have any short-term impact on gas prices and would only lower prices by pennies a gallon 10 years from now, citing government figures. She's plotting a vote on a bill to rein in speculators in energy markets when Congress returns next month.

Pelosi and other top Democrats see little reason to compromise. They expect to pick up seats in the House and Senate in November - and perhaps the White House, too - which would allow them to craft a more environmentally friendly energy policy next year. In the meantime, they plan to use their fundraising advantage to bash GOP candidates with ads linking them to oil companies.

A threat of actual leadership from the ostensible leader of the Democratic House! Of course, it didn't help that the leader of the entire Democratic Party wasn't also leading:

But in a shift, some Democrats are expressing more openness to drilling. Presidential candidate Barack Obama has said some new drilling could be part of a broader energy plan.

Well, today the New York Times has the bottom line:

For decades, opposition to new offshore oil drilling has been a core principle of Congressional Democrats, ranking in the party pantheon somewhere just below protecting Social Security and increasing the minimum wage.

But a concerted Republican assault over domestic oil production and the threat of political backlash from financially pressed motorists have Democrats poised to embrace a fundamental shift in energy policy.

Even more surprising, the turnabout is led by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who has a history of fighting oil drilling going back to the early days of her career in California.

Under a measure being assembled for a vote in the House next week, oil rigs could go up 50 miles from the shores of states that welcome drilling and 100 miles off any section of the United States coast — a stark reversal on an issue that has been a Democratic environmental touchstone since the 1980s.

Will someone please remind me of one important issue on which Pelosi has led the Democratic House to actually confront Bush? Defunding the war? Forcing a withdrawal timetable? Impeachment? FISA? Holding any Bush criminals accountable? Stopping any Bush atrocity?

As Bob Herbert wrote, last month:

As Senator Kerry and many others have pointed out, it would be nearly 10 years before any oil at all would be realized from new offshore leases. So your adorable 7- or 8-year-old would be just about 17 and clamoring for a license when this new oil started coming online.

Maximum capacity from these new leases wouldn’t be reached until 2030, when that 7- or 8-year-old is approaching 30, finished with college and graduate school, and very likely married with children.

And even then — after more than two decades and who knows how many graduations, weddings, funerals and family cars — even then, the amount of oil expected to come from these leases would have little or no effect on the price of gasoline at the pump.

Assuming that everything over all those years goes all right, it is estimated that an additional 200,000 barrels of oil a day would come from the additional offshore drilling. That’s a tiny share of the world’s daily output of 85 million or so barrels.

Here’s what the Energy Information Administration, the statistical agency that provides official data for the federal government, had to say about the anticipated additional output from offshore drilling:

“Because oil prices are determined on the international market ... any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.”

But what's easy for a columnist to explain is difficult for Nancy Pelosi and company to explain. Because if there's public hysteria over an issue, rather than helping calm people down, it's easier to just join the mob. Because selling responsible policy takes effort. It takes leadership. Which Nancy Pelosi is incapable of providing.

UPDATE: Read Meteor Blades.

Turkana :: 9:30 AM :: Comments (19) :: Digg It!