Liberal bloggers are befuddled, enviros are outraged, and the opposition party, as President Obama likely anticipated, is scornful. Most of the conventional analysis is trying to make sense of the Administration's decision in the context of the Senate's tortured energy bill negotiations. And because that doesn't seem to make sense, people are scratching their heads. Fortunately, the president laid out his rationale in a speech:
Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth and produce jobs, and keep our businesses competitive, we are going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy.
Given our energy needs. That's the key here. And it's what Greens conveniently ignore. Now I happen to think that everything else in that phrase from the speech is mostly window dressing. There are many regulatory hurdles for companies to overcome before they can start "exploratory" drilling. And even then, it's an open question whether it'll be worth it to them. So if the Administration's gambit isn't intended to influence wavering Republican senators on the climate bill, and won't increase our domestic supply of crude for at least a decade, what's really going on? Perhaps the offshore announcement is intended for a different audience. Foreign Policy raises that intriguing possibility here. If that's the case, then the Obama team, while saying all the right things about renewable energy, is keeping one cold eye on projected estimates of worldwide energy consumption rates, and the other on one very worrying scenario. UPDATE: I think Tom Yulsman is on to something here:
Politically, Obama is looking at rapidly rising petroleum prices right around the time of his reelection campaign, if not sooner. Economically, he's looking at a potential crunch just when things are supposed to be getting better. And while opening these new regions to drilling isn't going to solve the problem (because even if large amounts of oil are lurking there the supply won't come on line for about a decade), at least he's now given himself political cover.