IN EXCHANGE FOR WHAT?…. That the Obama administration would agree to open offshore areas to oil drilling is not exactly shocking. President Obama expressed a willingness to incorporate this into a larger energy policy during the campaign, and he alluded to “opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development” during the State of the Union. It’s not like this policy is a shift or coming out of nowhere.
I am interested, though, in what the administration may get in the way of concessions after agreeing to such a move.
The Obama administration is proposing to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, officials said Tuesday.
The proposal — a compromise that will please oil companies and domestic drilling advocates but anger some residents of affected states and many environmental organizations — would end a longstanding moratorium on oil exploration along the East Coast from the northern tip of Delaware to the central coast of Florida, covering 167 million acres of ocean.
Under the plan, the coastline from New Jersey northward would remain closed to all oil and gas activity. So would the Pacific Coast, from Mexico to the Canadian border.
The environmentally sensitive Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska would be protected and no drilling would be allowed under the plan, officials said. But large tracts in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska — nearly 130 million acres — would be eligible for exploration and drilling after extensive studies.
Under any scenario, actual drilling is still years away, and it’s unclear how many East coast states, if any, will raise objections.
But I’m especially interested in the larger political dynamic. As I understand it, the plan the White House has supported for months includes a give and take on energy — Republicans would get the drilling and nuclear advances, while Democrats would get cap-and-trade. There are plenty of related details, but in general, this would serve as the basis for a grand, comprehensive bargain on energy.
My confusion, then, is over the administration’s negotiating tactics. In February, the president cleared the way for the first new U.S. nuclear power plants in more than 30 years. Today, the president will reportedly open up new opportunities for coastal drilling.
In other words, Obama has already effectively given Republicans what they wanted on energy. What is he getting in return?