Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The offshore drilling ban is dead; Long live the offshore drilling ban

A lot of liberal pundits, including Rachel Maddow, have been aghast at the passage of H.R.6899, a bill that would lift the ban on offshore drilling. While I hate to disagree with Rachel, she's wrong on this one. It's political theater, and it's not going to result in drilling happening anywhere.

The bill contains a lot of provisions that are anathema to Republicans. It eliminates $18 billion in oil industry tax breaks. It has subsidies for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and public transit. It would require the release of 70 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. It would require utilities to generate 15% of their energy from clean sources by 2020. And it requires additional royalty payments for companies currently operating in the Gulf of Mexico. The bill faces a tough time in the Senate, and Bush has promised a veto.

Even in the unlikely event the bill becomes law, it still would put most of the known offshore oil reserves off limits. Drilling within 50 miles of shore would still be banned, and drilling within 100 miles of shore would require the adjacent states to opt in. This would be a tough fight in most costal states. The profitability of drilling that far out is probably questionable, so I can't see the oil companies jumping at the chance.

Offshore drilling is currently supported by a majority of Americans, and Republicans have picked this up as a campaign issue with their "drill, baby, drill" chant. By bringing up a bill like this for a vote, then making the Republicans kill it, the Democrats have made a brilliant, if cynical, play to defuse the issue.

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