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Obama to expand offshore oil drilling

A few days ago President Obama announced plans to open up large areas of the Eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico to exploration for oil and natural gas production. My initial reaction was strongly negative. Why elect a Democratic president if he’s going to tow the Republican line?

Upon further reflection – and a significant cool down period – I have some other thoughts:

I’m generically opposed to offshore drilling – shoot, even onshore drilling – as an environmental matter, but this sentence from President Obama’s speech sums up the challenge and the reality of providing for the present while ensuring the prosperity of the future:
> Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth and produce jobs, and keep our businesses competitive, **we are going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy.** (emphasis mine)

This is really the crux of a realistic (the buzzword lately has been “pragmatic”) assessment of our energy future. In my dream of dreams, a massive transportation and electricity production shift would occur in the next 3 years, ridding the U.S. economy of most fossil fuel use, negating the need for further domestic oil and gas production. This is, unfortunately, completely unrealistic.

On balance, I’d rather the fossil fuels we use be produced locally, just like I’d like my food to be grown locally. I’m not a fan of supporting petro-regimes via their product, nor do I support exporting the environmental costs of our actions to other places. In an ideal world, we would have developed an energy currency that is easily transportable, plentiful, and as dense as fossil fuels already. But we have not, and for the next 20 years or so, we are going to have to slowly wind down our current system while scaling up something completely new.

As to whether this makes for a good political move, I’m not sure. I have a general pessimism about current Republicans voting for anything – literally anything – that can be construed as progressive or liberal in any way. But this may convince some of the mythical “middle” of the voting populace that this is not a deeply ideological president, and that he’s willing to take on his base (me, liberals, environmentalists) in order to appeal to a broad cross-section of the country. Notably, more Americans support energy production over environmental protection for the first time since Gallup started asking the question.

This isn’t the environmental move that I’d like to have seen. Yet if this pragmatism leads to a price on carbon and increased health and safety via the EPA, then I support it.

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