by Vince Haley
If you’re the President of the United States or one of his political appointees and you’re ideologically opposed to new oil and natural gas development offshore, what do you do when the public registers its overwhelming support for new drilling in public opinion polls?
You dance, delay, and deceive. You speak melodious words about seeking the wisdom of the public in making these decisions and then ignore evidence of the public will when you get it, or worse, you hide it.
First came the dance. In August 2008, after soaring gas prices and a dramatic shift in public opinion caused President Bush, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, and Republican presidential candidate John McCain to reverse their positions on offshore drilling, then-Senator Obama also changed. The Democratic presidential nominee reversed his own position and that of his party, saying he was open to offshore drilling as part of an overall energy plan. The Democratic Congress followed a month later by quietly dropping the 25-year Congressional ban on offshore drilling.
Then came the delay. In January 2009, President Obama inherited a draft five year offshore drilling plan prepared by the outgoing Bush administration. The plan was already receiving public comment as part of the elaborate rule making process followed by federal agencies. Ken Salazar, Obama’s new Secretary of Interior, determined the decision about new offshore drilling was so important that he ordered a six-month extension to the comment period.
Third comes the dishonesty.
In April of 2009, during a discussion about offshore exploration in San Francisco, Salazar said that President Obama directed him to “to make sure that we have an open and transparent government” and that “these are not decisions that are going to be made behind closed doors.” Salazar went on to say that President Obama wanted to make sure that DOI was “maximizing the opportunity for the public to give us guidance on what it is that they want to do.”
Yet, more than four months after the comment period ended, the Department of the Interior has failed to make any public announcement about the results, even though sources have told American Solutions for months the comments show a 2-1 advantage in support of offshore drilling.
It took American Solutions almost four months and the power of the Freedom of Information Act to finally uncover indirect confirmation that, out of over 530,000 comments submitted, pro-drilling comments outnumbered anti-drilling comments by a 2-1 margin.
In an email dated October 27, 2009, Liz Birnbaum, director of the Minerals Management Service, informs other Interior officials that a preliminary tabulation of the results of the comment period had not yet gone to Secretary Salazar, adding “[s]o the Secretary can honestly say in response to any questions that he’s [SIC] has not yet seen the analysis of the comments – staff is still working on it. I did, however, confirm to him the 2-1 split that these guys [at American Solutions] are emphasizing.”
When a public employee is on record condoning purposeful deception of the American people, the taxpayer should no longer have to fund his or her job. Secretary Salazar should immediately fire Liz Birnbaum for purposefully deceiving him, and in turn, the American people. It’s not possible for the Secretary to honor pledges of openness, honestly, and transparency in government if his staff is going to deliberately undermine such pledges.
Public opinion polls already measure near 70% support for offshore drilling, so the results from a public comment period that reflect the same public sentiment should not be surprising. But after all this talk of wanting the public’s input, Secretary Salazar and his team must find it a real stumbling block to have to explain all their anti-energy development actions in light of the comment period results to which they previously attached such great importance.
This newly gained insight into the anti-energy exploration mindset within the Department of the Interior allows a new perspective of President Obama’s mention of offshore development in his recent State of the Union address. Here is the one paragraph in which the President described offshore development:
But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.
To the passive listener, it sounded like President Obama expressed at least rhetorical support for offshore drilling.
But the President only says we must make “tough decisions” on offshore drilling, deliberately refusing to apply that standard to other decisions on energy.
But tough for whom? Certainly not for the public that overwhelmingly supports more offshore drilling.
Indeed, the only person facing a tough decision is the President since an important part of his political base is opposed to new American energy development.
Bucking public opinion would indeed be a tough decision for this President, but he has shown himself quite comfortable with bucking public opinion to pursue stunningly unpopular policies on health care and cap and trade.
In short, it’s a fair conclusion that the tough decisions the President identified in his State of the Union was his intended decision not to pursue any new offshore oil and gas development. The actions by Salazar and his team are entirely consistent with that conclusion.
What makes all of this dispiriting, especially this month, is that with 15 million Americans out of work and with the President’s recently submitted budget projecting trillion dollar annual deficits for the next ten years and a near tripling of the national debt by 2020, the President is throwing away a golden opportunity over the next three decades to create millions of new jobs and generate more than $270 billion in annual economic growth from new oil and gas development, including $54 billion annually in federal tax receipts that could help lower the federal deficit and the national debt.
These extraordinary benefits of job creation and economic growth – all without requiring any federal spending – are, sadly, not on President Obama’s agenda, notwithstanding all the phony rhetoric to the contrary.
Indeed, we can look forward to the President’s continued strategy of dance, delay, and deceive.