Obama to Open Alaska Reserve to New Oil Drilling
Worried about the potential political fallout of high gas prices, President Obama has announced he will open the National Petroleum Reserve in far northern Alaska to new drilling. The Los Angeles Times reports the plan, which was unveiled in the President’s weekly radio address today, includes extending leases for oil companies drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean. Drilling was interrupted by the moratorium imposed in the wake of last year’s BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.
With the average price of a gallon of gas now above $4 almost everywhere in the US, the Obama administration is concerned that popular anger could affect the President’s 2012 re-election bid. High gas prices also threaten the nation’s shaky economic recovery.
The President also reiterated his desire for an end to subsidies to oil companies. Although these massive corporations rake in the biggest profits in all of business (the top 5 oil firms made a mind-boggling $35,000,000,000 in first quarter profits this year), tax breaks and government subsidies save them $4.4 billion each year. That’s $4.4 billion in desperately needed lost revenue for the federal government.
One unnamed government official told the Los Angeles Times that the administration was “drawing on the best ideas from the Democratic and Republican side of the aisle and the best ideas from industry.”
There was no mention of environmentalists. The area where Obama plans to increase drilling is an important nesting ground for many species of migratory birds, as well as home to half a million caribou. The area also boasts Alaska’s highest concentration of grizzly bears and many wolves and wolverines. It is also the hunting and fishing grounds of the indigenous people of Alaska. The Obama administration claims the planned development will bypass environmentally sensitive areas.
Speaking of Republicans, they were largely unfazed by the President’s plan.
“The President is finally admitting what Republicans have known all along–,” gloated Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, “that increasing the supply of American energy will help lower prices and create jobs. One weekend address announcing minor policy tinkering, while positive, does not erase the administration’s long job-destroying record of locking up America’s energy resources.”
High gas prices are a hot-button issue, and it is understandable that the President would want to address them. But Obama’s approach completely ignores the real problem– overconsumption– in favor of band-aid fixes to temporarily lower prices at the pump. But lower prices will only lead to increased consumption, which, in turn, will deplete resources and lead to even higher prices. In the meantime, carbon emissions will rise and disasters like Deepwater Horizon will increase as oil companies are forced to drill for scarce resources in ever-riskier locations.
We don’t need lower gas prices. In fact, Moral Low Ground submits that pump prices ought to be significantly higher than they are now. What’s needed is less dependence on polluting fossil fuels and automobiles, more research and investment in viable alternative energy sources like non-corn based biofuels and algae, and greater development of our nation’s public transportation infrastructure.
But these things are both unpopular and somewhat uncomfortable, therefore making them political suicide. And so it is that Obama’s solution to high gas prices is looking a lot like what Republicans like Sarah Palin advocate– “drill, baby, drill.”
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