Drill, Baby … Not Yet

By  Mitch Morrison, Vice President & Group Editor

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From the dais to the rafters, the chant reverberated with revolutionary zeal. Drill, baby, drill. Echoes of Sarah Palin’s battle cry two summers ago during the Republican National Convention have dissipated into a political party’s lament. This past May, two senior Republicans, GOP Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and colleague Pat Roberts, R-Kan., ran away from the party anthem. “That was not a Senate Republican phrase,” Kyl said in a recent interview with TheHill.com. “I think there was a candidate that used that. I think our phrase was, ‘Drill here, drill now,’ meaning here in the United States and as quickly as oil and gas leases are going.”

That “candidate,” of course, is Tea Party Palin.

As for Roberts? “I don’t know about the slogan. The slogan was what, two, three years ago, and basically we had a lot of opposition to it anyway.”

Of course, much has changed in our attitudes about oil since the BP oilrig disaster off the Gulf of Mexico that threatens Louisiana and Alabama’s shoreline and fishing industries.

Gleeful Democrats have no reason to be smug, however. Energy dependence remains a long-term national concern. While a global recession and subsequent oil glut hold down prices, it is foolhardy to believe $4 street prices won’t return at some point or that U.S. policy will remain, at least, partially beholden to the Saudis, Kuwaitis and other Middle Eastern countries.

So where are we today? Do we seek a fuel-independent strategy or do we acknowledge we lack the safe infrastructure required to minimize our reliance on foreign oil?

Just two months before the April rig explosion, the Obama administration announced an energy policy aimed at starting a national discussion that would blend conservation, investment in alternative resources and new drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf and Alaska.

The initiative, according to policy think tanks, was considered a middle road between the drill-baby-drill crowd and strict environmentalists banking almost exclusively—and naively—on a conservation-only approach.

Candidly, I’m not sure how serious Obama is about his proposal. From multiple accounts, he is banking on another initiative to take root—that is, the American Power Act, a measure originally brokered by three senators: Democrat John Kerry, Republican Lindsay Graham and Independent Joseph Lieberman.

The proposal, while flawed, blends a path toward greater energy independence and pollution reduction. It aims to create a bona fide green energy sector, reduce carbon pollution by 17% in 2020 and expand the use of cleaner energies, from nuclear to renewable.

A summary of the proposal states: “Today, we spend almost $1 billion every day on foreign oil, much of which is sent to regimes that hare hostile to our nation and our interests. That is money we should be investing at home.” Agreed.

Among the highlights:

  • Tax incentives to develop trucks and heavy-duty fleets to run on clean natural gas.
  • In light of the BP wreckage, coastal states are given opt-outs of drilling up to 75 miles from their shores.
  • Deny states from operating the controversial cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases.
  • Expand the clean energy manufacturing tax credit by $5 billion. Likewise, the measure adds incentives to invest in cleaner coal technologies and removes disincentives for natural-gas generation at merchant plants.
  • The proposal supports research and development of “small, modular reactors and enhanced proliferation controls.”

We’re not going to drill our way out of the problem, nor are we going to conserve our way into energy independence. Is there a middle way?

Please e-mail your thoughts to mmorrison@cspnet.com.

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