Getting something for nothing is always a good idea. Kudos to Senator Obama and other progressives for understanding this. The key questions are:

  1. How much of a “nothing” is ending the congressional moratorium on offshore drilling?
  2. How much of a “something” can progressives get by way of a serious effort to end our oil addiction once and for all?

Right now, it seems like conservatives are willing to hold their breath until they turn blue in the face before they agree to move any legislation whatsoever if it does not include coast drilling. Politically, they seem to have a winning argument in part because the media simply isn’t policing the debate, even when people like McCain just repeat the lies of the oil industry over and over again. And in national politics, the side who doesn’t have to explain their position usually wins.

I do think that agreeing to some coastal drilling now is de minimis as for two reasons:

  1. Congress is going to have to end the moratorium sooner or later. If $4 gasoline doesn’t bring enough pressure from the oil companies, conservatives, and the public, then $6 or $8 will. So why not agree to it now in return for jumpstarting the transition to a clean energy economy — rather enduring pointless political pain and waiting a few years to start the serious transition?
  2. The Group-of-10 bipartisan deal leaves most coastal states out, as I’ll discuss in part 2. And I doubt many of the remaining states are going to actually approve offshore drilling. The one that seems most excited, Virginia, will be vetoed by the Pentagon because the Navy uses the state’s coastal waters for a variety of activities. And the oil companies don’t really have that much interest in drilling off the Atlantic, since there’s not that much oil and no pipeline delivery infrastructure to their refineries

I doubt the deal would even generate 50,000 barrels of oil a day 15 years from now. Is it really worth losing any political points in races for Congress or the presidency to (temporarily) hold back under one-thousandth of the global oil supply — especially when progressives can get something real for it? Of course not. For that reason, though, congressional leaders are to be applauded for refusing to allow a simple up-or-down vote on offshore drilling. Between the 60 votes conservatives are requiring every bill to achieve in the Senate, and Bush’s commitment to veto any intelligent energy legislation, conservatives have blocked all efforts to extend the renewable energy tax credits or to enact a renewable portfolio standard, among other crucial pieces of energy legislation.

Time for a deal. That’s why on Saturday, Obama “said a shift in his stance on offshore oil drilling is a necessary compromise with Republicans to gain their support for his broader goals of energy independence,” as The Washington Post reported. The RNC quickly sent out a pointless news release noting that Obama said on Wednesday:

“I want to be absolutely clear to everybody about this. If I thought that I could provide you some immediate relief on gas prices by drilling off the shores of California and New Jersey … if I thought that by drilling offshore, we could solve our problem, I’d do it.”

So? Obama understands offshore drilling is de minimis. If the conservatives don’t, then isn’t that the perfect time for a deal, when you can get something for nothing? So what exactly is the something that progressives should get in return? To answer that, we need to first look at the deal that is on the table, which is the subject of part 2.

This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.