Muckraker: Grist on Politics

The McCain campaign held a press call this morning with senior policy advisers Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Nancy Pfotenhauer on the candidate’s energy plan. The subjects of yesterday’s tanker spill near New Orleans and McCain’s canceled trip to an offshore rig because of Hurricane Dolly came up during discussion of McCain’s call for more drilling.

“This [offshore drilling] is the right thing for the economy, it is the right thing for national security. And, as [McCain] is always committed to pursuing these endeavors in an environmentally friendly way, it’s the right thing for the environment in the long run as well,” said Holtz-Eakin.

“It is a reality if you talk to any kind of environmental community, everything has to be on the table. You have to have coal, you have to have natural gas, you have to have oil, you have to have nuclear power, you have to have every power source as part of the portfolio if the United States is going to achieve its environmental goals and achieve its national security goals,” Holtz-Eakin continued. “John McCain has laid out a common-sense course and allowed himself to solve the problems as opposed to being trapped by ideology.”

The idea that offshore drilling is “the right thing for the environment” will be a tough point for the McCain campaign to prove. McCain has also maintained that offshore drilling is “safe enough these days that not even Hurricanes Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage from the battered rigs off the coasts of New Orleans and Houston.” But according to government figures, the storms in 2005 caused 146 small spills in federal waters. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita completely destroyed 113 oil rigs and damaged 457 pipelines, and Katrina alone spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Mississippi River.

Pfotenhauer argued that yesterday’s spill wasn’t at all related to drilling — even though one would assume the 420,000 gallons of fuel oil that were dumped into the river had to come out of the ground somehow.

“I believe it was a traffic jam, or a water-traffic accident, and didn’t have anything to do with drilling. It had to do with transportation. And oil is transported on barges, and so you have the potential for those accidents regardless. No matter where it was drilled, you have the potential for those accidents in transportation,” said Pfotenhauer. “Obviously everybody takes every step they can to try to minimize those. And the record for offshore drilling has been remarkably safe over time.”

Holtz-Eakin followed by arguing that the real threat to the environment isn’t the potential for oil spills, but terrorism. “I just want to point out that, with regard to spillage and other environmental threats that come from energy sources, let’s remember that our reliance on imported oil makes the whole supply chain a target for terrorists. And in addition to that being a national security issue, it’s a big environmental threat to have terrorists looking for an opportunity to damage the supply chain for oil into the United States, and weaning ourselves of that dependence would be a great thing.

Holtz-Eakin was also asked about where the candidate stands on oil-shale development, the energy topic of the week:

The senator believes that we should take advantage of the most opportune ways to meet our oil needs in the near-term. Obviously the OCS [Outer Continental Shelf] is the most promising, readily developable oil available. Past that, he believes that the other efforts he will undertake will make it unnecessary to use large amounts of different kinds of sources. We’re not going to use them now, but if we need to use those, we’re going to use the same formula we’re going to apply to the OCS. Let’s have the local stakeholders have their say, let’s make sure we do this in an environmentally friendly way, and let’s make sure that the leases and royalties are shared in a way that’s appropriate.”