Offshore drilling and politicians: dumb and dumber

Yesterday, President Bush scrapped an executive order signed in 1990 by his father prohibiting offshore oil drilling, and urged the Democratic Congress to follow suit and lift a longstanding legislative ban on offshore exploration. “The only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil reserves is action from the US Congress,” Bush declared. “The time for action is now.”

Forget, for a moment, the irony of George W. Bush, who’s done more than anyone to delay and obstruct the battle against climate change, lecturing Democrats about the importance of timely action. Forget, too, that the offshore drill-a-thon Bush is trumpeting would take years to get underway - and even then, would make virtually no difference to the price at the pump. No, the real kicker is that congressional Democrats - who know full well that increased offshore drilling won’t solve anything - appear to be buying the President’s spiel.

Dems haven’t quite gone so far as to back Bush’s barmy plan to open up protected areas of America’s coastline to the oil companies, of course; instead, they’ve rolled out a counter-proposal that would boost oil production in those areas of Alaska already open to drilling. That’s essentially an attempt to shield Democratic lawmakers against charges of obstructionism, while stopping short of endorsing new drilling in protected areas.

Unfortunately, though, it’s a strategy that plays into Republicans’ hands. The Democrats’ Alaskan gambit only makes sense if the root problem is that American oil production is too low. That reinforces the Republican argument that boosting oil production would help alleviate the current energy crisis, and makes it easier for Bush and McCain to argue that greens, in opposing new offshore drilling, are simply putting coastal ecosystems ahead of the wider US economy.

In fact, of course, neither the Alaskan plan nor Bush’s proposed drilling would make a dime’s worth of difference to America’s current energy problems. The math is simple: The US consumes a quarter of the world’s total oil production, and has only three percent of global oil reserves. If we want to reduce our reliance on foreign oil - or bring down the price at the pump - we need to either cut consumption or find alternative energy sources. Democrats should quit pandering to panicked consumers, and start telling Americans the difficult truth: There’s simply no way that we can drill our way out of this mess.