Democrat Barack Obama on Friday said he would be willing to support some offshore drilling if it were necessary to enact a comprehensive energy plan, and indicated that he could support the bipartisan energy plan put forward by the Senate’s “Gang of 10″ that includes both drilling and a major investment in renewables.
The shift on drilling drew a lot of heat over the weekend, as pundits accused the candidate of flip-flopping on the issue, though Obama says he still doesn’t actively support opening up more areas for leasing as a solution to energy concerns.
“My interest is in making sure we’ve got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices,” said Obama, noting that he remains skeptical that drilling would provide much, if any, relief on gas prices.
“We can’t drill our way out of the problem,” he said. But, he continued, “I also recognize that in the House and the Senate, there are Republicans who have very clear ideas about what they want, and at some point people are going to have to make some decisions. Do we want to keep on arguing, or are we going to get some things done?”
In a speech in Lansing, Mich., this morning, Obama clarified his position on the issue. “While I still don’t believe that’s a particularly meaningful short-term or long-term solution, I am willing to consider it if it’s necessary to actually pass a comprehensive plan,” he told the crowd. “I am not interested in making the perfect the enemy of the good — particularly since there is so much good in this compromise that would actually reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”
Obama said his energy plan would include a “use it or lose it” approach to oil leases, requiring oil companies to develop the 68 million acres already under lease, or be forced to turn the leases over to another company. But he emphasized that more drilling won’t affect the price of gas significantly, while continued addiction to foreign oil puts the country in peril from an economic, environmental, and national security perspective.
“This addiction is one of the most dangerous and urgent threats this nation has ever faced — from the gas prices that are wiping out your paychecks and straining businesses to the jobs that are disappearing from this state; from the instability and terror bred in the Middle East to the rising oceans and record drought and spreading famine that could engulf our planet,” he said.
One new item in Obama’s energy plan is a call for the release of a portion of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in order to cut prices, a move that some Democrats in Congress have been calling for as well. Campaign energy policy director Heather Zichal said that this isn’t a complete reversal of his previous position, though just a few weeks ago Obama said he did not support releasing oil from the reserve. She said his proposal would swap out light crude from the reserve for heavy crude, and is necessary in an energy crisis.
“Senator Obama has looked at this issue and he realizes Americans are suffering and he made the distinction that we do need to tap the strategic energy reserve,” said Zichal, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In his speech today, Obama also touted his plan to issue an energy rebate to help deal with high gas prices. Families would receive a $1,000 rebate, and individuals would receive one for $500. His plan would use the proceeds of a windfall-profits tax on oil companies to fund his “Emergency Energy Rebate.”
Obama also called for efficiency improvements to reduce the country’s use of oil by the amount we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela. He proposed higher fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, calling for 1 million plug-in hybrid cars to be on the road by 2015, and for a $7,000 tax credit for consumers who buy those vehicles. He said he plans to create 5 million new, green jobs through $150 billion in investments in clean energy and job training over the next decade.
He also pledged to adopt a “Renewable Portfolio Standard,” mandating that 10 percent of the nation’s electricity supply comes from renewables by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025, which he said would help spur jobs and bring new energy sources to the market.
“I will not pretend the goals I laid out today aren’t ambitious. They are. I will not pretend we can achieve them without cost, or without sacrifice, or without the contribution of almost every American citizen,” said Obama. “But I will say that these goals are possible. And I will say that achieving them is absolutely necessary if we want to keep America safe and prosperous in the 21st century.”