President Obama’s announcement that he would support a limited expansion of offshore drilling might sound like a step in the right direction. In reality, it tightens the noose on domestic energy. The promise of more domestic oil in no way justifies enacting an overall energy package with global-warming measures that threaten to damage the economy and raise energy prices.
For one thing, allowing new leasing in selected offshore areas is no guarantee that actual drilling will occur. Administrative delays and environmental-group lawsuits still could delay production for years, or prevent it entirely. Bills like the No Cost Stimulus Act seek to streamline the red tape, but if the president doesn’t do the same, his proposal for more drilling will amount to little more than an empty promise. The fact that several of the areas in his announcement, including the Atlantic coast, could already be leased right now were it not for foot-dragging by the Obama Department of the Interior suggests the administration’s heart isn’t exactly in expanded offshore oil and gas production.
In addition, the president’s proposal includes new bans on access to American energy, such as in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Like Obama’s supposedly pro-nuclear plan, the pro–domestic oil plan is more like a step backwards.
Even if the provisions lead to increased drilling, if they are part of a larger energy plan that contains global-warming measures it will still be bad news for energy prices and the economy. The goal of sound energy policy, after all, should be more affordable and reliable supplies for the American people. New drilling would help do that, but pairing it with “cap and trade” or other global-warming provisions would defeat the purpose — and then some.
Keep in mind that these global-warming measures seek to raise the price of petroleum and other fossil fuels in order to force individuals and businesses to use less, thereby reducing the carbon dioxide emissions some blame for global warming. Inflicting economic pain via higher energy prices isn’t a side effect of global-warming legislation — it’s the whole point.
In sum, there’s not much point in a legislative package with one section purporting to allow new drilling for energy and another section making that energy prohibitively expensive. Unless, of course, it’s to win a few additional supporters for a bill that would hurt that American consumer and the economy. Talk about a waste of energy.
– Ben Lieberman is senior policy analyst for Energy and Environment in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.