Did President Obama do a flip-flop when he opened up vast swaths of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil drilling? It depends on how far back you want to go in the President's record. In the Senate he supported efforts to limit offshore drilling. But as a presidential candidate he came around to accepting at least some offshore drilling as a way to build consensus on the energy issue.
Catharine Richert brings us this analysis for the worthwhile politifact.com website run by the St. Pete Times. Her post is worth a read.
Flip-flop or no, though, it's one of what seem like increasingly more common Obama decisions on the environment that could easily have been made by the George W. Bush administration (but probably not by the George H.W. Bush team.) Example: On Monday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it was going with a Bush-era interpretation of the Clean Air Act that delays a crackdown on regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources such as power plants. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, this will allow construction of another 50 coal-fired plants.
Other thoughts in the aftermath of Obama's drilling decision:
+ I couldn't resist retweeting David Roberts of Grist.org:
"Imagine Obama banning offshore drilling in the vague hope that environmental groups might some day support his bill."
+ Some enviros were actually happy with the decision — not the part about the Atlantic and Gulf, but the part about Alaska, where Obama made Bristol Bay verboten territory for the drilling rigs. Bristol Bay is an incredibly productive fishing ground off southwestern Alaska. Obama also pulled an un-Bush-like feint by delaying any drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off Alaska's northern coast. Said Marilyn Heiman of the Pew Environment Group's U.S. Arctic program:
“President Obama should be commended for proceeding carefully on new Arctic leasing until better spill response capabilities are in place and we know how to protect this sensitive region. Thorough science and planning must come before drilling in any marine waters."
+ The decision about the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico shows that Obama is marginalizing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which expressed environmental concerns and argued that no decisions should be made while the agency is still working with the White House and other agencies on an overall strategy for what amounts to zoning of the oceans. Thanks to the folks at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which dug up NOAA's comments and a presidential memo from last year in which Obama told his agencies:
"To succeed in protecting the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes, the United States needs to act within a unifying framework under a clear national policy, including a comprehensive, ecosystem-based framework for the longterm conservation and use of our resources.”
Guess he changed his mind.
+ Today the Natural Resources Defense Council asked the forward-looking question: Now that Bristol Bay won't be covered in drilling rigs, what about plans to build the massive Pebble mine in its headwaters? The group sent out an e-mail that I can't find on its Web site, but promised to follow the issue on its blog. To quote from the e-mail:
Grizzlies, wolves, seals and whales roam this nearly untouched ecosystem, all drawn by the same lure: tens of millions of thrashing salmon, charging upstream to spawn. Huge salmon runs are the linchpin of this pristine wilderness, supporting valuable commercial fisheries, indigenous people and a vast array of wildlife. Yet the whole system could come crashing down if giant mining interests get their way.
— Robert McClure