31 March 2010


I've been a supporter of Barack Obama ever since he announced his candidacy for the Presidency. I believe that, on balance, this Constitutional scholar explores the facts on all sides of a given issue, assessing the pros and cons, and then makes informed decisions which are practical, rational and aimed at the greater good.

President Obama has, however, made several policy decisions and concessions which are, in my view, misguided attempts at political appeasement, when he should be taking a firmer stand. Our continued military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is one example. Today's announcement that he proposes to open vast expanses of American coastline to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, comes as a painful shock to this observor.

Included in his proposal are immense stretches of Atlantic coastline from New Jersey to Florida, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska's entire North Slope. Here is a map showing the affected areas.

Mr. Obama justifies his decision by noting that "given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth, produce jobs, and keep our businesses competitive, we're going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy." I'm thinking. WHAT? I respect Mr. Obama's ability to find the middle ground on difficult issues, but this is not the middle ground -- this is abject surrender.

In his provocative and well-researched book The Limits of Power, Andrew J. Bacevich describes in vivid detail American assumptions about their right to unlimited energy use, their resistance to simple and effective energy conservation, and the economic, military and political forces which combine to encourage our profligacy. The author lays out an array of alternatives which would go a long way toward reversing this trend. When 2 percent of the world's population accounts for two-thirds of the world's energy consumption, clearly our perception of our own energy needs bears re-evaluation -- not to mention our assumptions about unharnessed economic growth and competitive businesses. Further, the U.S. possesses only 2 percent of the world's known oil reserves, yet is responsible for 20 percent of world oil consumption. To imagine that this proposal will make even a dent in our current consumption, without addressing the need for a profound paradigm shift in our production and use of all forms of energy, is whistling in the wind.

Further, what constitutes "homegrown energy"? More offshore oil drilling? More strip mining for coal or shale oil? More nuclear power plants? I am deeply disturbed by the direction being taken by this administration's energy policy. I'm trying to keep an open mind, trying to see the big picture. But some things are not negotiable, particularly given the environmental (and yes, the economic) risks involved. Can you spell "oil spill"? Are our memories really that short?

I've learned over the years that whenever there is a peculiarity or an unexplained question in politics and in business, the answer usually hinges upon political power, dollar signs, or both. This proposal smacks of both. The President appears to be trying to appease conservatives in hopes of winning more support for a climate bill from undecided Republican legislators. Given Republicans' scandalous and intransigent obstructionism on other progressive measures, I have small hope that this proposal will be welcomed with open arms by conservatives, nor by conservationists. Certainly not by this conservationist.

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