How greens and Democrats can win the energy debate
If the pro-environment Republican wasn’t already dead, I think this week killed him. John McCain, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, President Bush, and many others threw overboard one of the last policy planks Republicans (at least in coastal states) used to show that they’re pro-environment too by calling for a massive offshore drilling program.
As chronicled in this excellent article by Politico’s Charles Mathesian and David Mark, it’s a politically risky move for Republicans: although national polls show some support for more oil drilling, there’s also zealous support for keeping coasts and beaches clean in many coastal states. What’s Florida Republican senator Mel Martinez to do, for instance, during his next election campaign after gas price anxiety fades (most likely) and his opponent can waive around this quote to cast doubt not only on his green cred, but also his general trustworthiness and strong leadership:
“I’m trying to clarify my position,” said Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.). “In Florida today most voters probably want more drilling.”
Meanwhile, although the Democratic leadership is expressing opposition to the Bush-McCain drilling plan, they’re not exactly showing a lot of rhetorical backbone on it: Afraid to make the argument against offshore drilling on environmental grounds, they’re instead going for the “We’re for oil drilling too, but just not as much as Republicans” argument that has built them such a
loyal and enthusiastic skeptical and tepid following among environmentalists.
In response to the Republican plan, House Democratic Caucus leader Rahm Emanuel proposed to
increase fuel efficiency expand drilling on federal land. The idea is to fine Big Oil if they don’t produce oil from leases that they already own. This is supposed to call attention to the fact that the oil industry is only producing oil from 20-30 percent of federal oil leases it currently owns and cast doubt on the prospect that selling more leases will actually increase offshore drilling.
Here’s the main problem: This Democratic proposal buys into the false notion that expanded oil drilling will bring down prices in any significant way. It’s buying into the Republican frame and it’s hurting the Democrats’ chances at stopping this proposal.
Instead, Democrats and environmentalists should do what they’ve always done to beat back oil drilling proposals and make them the third rail of coastal politics: Talk about the threat of oil spills — and show pictures and video.
Talk about last December’s spill of 2.7 million gallons of crude in Korea, which fouled 50 miles of coastline and ruined a significant portion of that country’s sustainable aquaculture industry:
Or the spill last November in the San Francisco Bay that killed wildlife 15 miles away:
Talk about how the extensive oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Gulf Coast not only made it more vulnerable to hurricanes, but also caused 6.5 million gallons of crude to spill — creating the massive pool of toxic sludge that inundated the city of New Orleans.
Is that what Carolinians, Floridians, Georgians, and Virginians want next time a hurricane strikes?