Opinion: ‘Drill, baby, drill’ -- Obama channels Sarah Palin but Republicans complain anyway

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The crowd at the 2008 Republican convention erupted in cheers of ‘drill, baby, drill!’ when vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin urged a change in the nation’s energy policy. Calling for more nuclear plants and increased drilling, warning about the threat of an Iran or terrorists holding U.S. energy supplies hostage, she said: ‘We Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas. And take it from a gal who knows the North Slope of Alaska: We’ve got lots of both.’

Somewhere out on the campaign trail, Democrat Barack Obama was listening. Today he did something about it.


Reversing 20 years of federal policy, the Obama administration plans to open the spigots on offshore drilling along the East Coast and in parts of Alaska. In a major speech, Obama laid out the need for energy security in more detail than Palin did -- but announced his....

...intention to cancel exploration in the environmentally sensitive Bristol Bay, launched during the Bush administration. (Read the transcript below, as provided by the White House.)

Democrats are chagrined, warning of potential environmental damage. ‘Offshore drilling, especially drilling as close as 4 miles from Florida’s Atlantic beaches, tastes bad no matter which president from whatever party is serving it,’' said Progress Florida’s Mark Ferrulo. That, you might have expected.

But the move forced Republicans to choose between their politics and their principles. And guess what? They went partisan.

[Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell complained that President Obama was stealing a Republican idea while advocating more drilling and nuclear power plants.]

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell complained the president was stealing their idea -- the one they put forward during that healthcare summit with Obama at Blair House in February.

House Minority Leader John Boehner complained that the White House proposal was flawed because it didn’t go far enough.

Obama is not above playing politics himself. Back in 2008, while on the campaign trail, he stood on the Florida coastline and promised not to drill. Take a look.

Still, the White House calculus is that embracing Republican ideas like oil drilling and resumption of nuclear energy production will free up enough votes from moderates in both parties to unlock the now-in-trouble climate change bill.

From the reaction of Republicans, it looks like it might have been a smart bet.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Obama’s remarks, as provided by the White House:

Remarks of President Barack Obama—As Prepared for Delivery; Statement on Energy Security
Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland

Thank you, Secretary Salazar. Ken and I were colleagues in the Senate, and I appointed him because I knew he’d be a faithful and pragmatic steward of our natural resources. As Secretary, he’s changing the way the Interior Department does business so that we are responsibly developing traditional sources of energy and renewable sources of energy, from the wind on the high plains to the sun in the deserts to the waves off our coasts.

It’s also good to see so many members of our Armed Forces here today. Andrews is the home of Air Force One, and I appreciate everything you do for me and my family. You’ve got a 100-percent on-time departure record. And you don’t charge for checking luggage. So it’s a pretty good deal. But in all seriousness, I want to thank you not only for the support you provide to me – but also for the service you perform to keep our country safe.

We are here today to talk about America’s energy security, an issue that has been a priority for my administration since the day I took office. Already, we’ve made the largest investment in clean energy in our nation’s history. It’s an investment that’s expected to create or save more than 700,000 jobs across America: jobs manufacturing advanced batteries for more efficient vehicles, upgrading the power grid so that it’s smarter and stronger, and doubling our nation’s capacity to generate renewable electricity from sources like the wind and the sun.

Just a few months after taking office, I also gathered the leaders of the world’s largest automakers, the heads of labor unions, environmental advocates, and public officials from California and across the country to reach an historic agreement to raise fuel economy standards in cars and trucks. Tomorrow, after decades in which we have done little to increase auto efficiency, those new standards will be finalized, which will reduce our dependence on oil while helping folks spend a little less at the pump. So my administration is upholding its end of the deal, and we expect all parties to do the same. I’d also point out: this rule will not only save drivers money; it will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil. That’s like taking 58 million cars off the road for an entire year.

Today, we’re also going one step further. In order to save energy and taxpayer dollars, my administration – led by Secretary Chu at Energy and Administrator Johnson at GSA – is doubling the number of hybrid vehicles in the federal fleet, even as we seek to reduce the number of cars and trucks used by our government overall. We’re going to lead by example and practice what we preach: cutting waste, saving energy, and reducing our reliance on foreign oil.

But we have to do more. We need to make continued investments in clean coal technologies and advanced biofuels. A few weeks ago, I announced loan guarantees to break ground on America’s first new nuclear facility in three decades, a project that will create thousands of jobs. And in the short term, as we transition to cleaner energy sources, we’ll have to make tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development in ways that protect communities and coastlines.

This is not a decision that I’ve made lightly. It’s one Ken and I – as well as Carol Browner, my energy advisor in the White House, and others in my administration – looked at closely for more than a year. But the bottom line is this: 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.

So today we’re announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration – but in ways that balance the need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect America’s natural resources. Under the leadership of Secretary Salazar, we’ll employ new technologies that reduce the impact of oil exploration. We’ll protect areas vital to tourism, the environment, and our national security. And we’ll be guided not by political ideology, but by scientific evidence. That’s why my administration will consider potential new areas for development in the mid and south Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, while studying and protecting sensitive areas in the Arctic. That’s why we’ll continue to support development of leased areas off the North Slope of Alaska, while protecting Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision, including those who say we should not open any new areas to drilling. But what I want to emphasize is that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy. And the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and long term. To fail to recognize this reality would be a mistake.

On the other side, there will be those who argue that we do not go nearly far enough; who suggest we open all of our waters to energy exploration without any restriction or regard for the broader environmental and economic impact. They’d deny the fact that with less than 2 percent of oil reserves, but more than 20 percent of world consumption, drilling alone cannot come close to meeting our long-term energy needs, and that for the sake of the planet and our energy independence, we need to begin the transition to cleaner fuels now.

Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates between right and left, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place. Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again.

For decades we’ve talked about how our dependence on fossil fuels threatens our economy – yet our will to act rises and falls with the price of a barrel of oil. For decades we’ve talked about the threat to future generations posed by our current system of energy – even as we can see the mounting evidence of climate change from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf Coast. And for decades, we’ve talked about the risks to our security created by our dependence on foreign oil – even as that dependence has grown year after year after year.

And while our politics has remained entrenched along worn divides, the ground has shifted beneath our feet. Around the world, countries are seeking an edge in the global marketplace by investing in new ways of producing and saving energy. From China to Germany, these nations recognize that the country that leads the clean energy economy will be the country that leads the global economy. Meanwhile, here at home, as politicians in Washington debate endlessly whether to act, our own military has determined that we can’t afford not to.

If there was any doubt about that, you need only look to the F-18 fighter and the light armored vehicle behind me. The Army and Marine Corps have been testing this vehicle on a mixture of biofuels. And this Navy fighter jet – called the Green Hornet – will be flown for the first time in just a few weeks, on Earth Day. If tests go as planned, it will be the first plane ever to fly faster than the speed of sound on a fuel mix that’s half biomass. The Air Force is also testing jet engines using biofuels and had the first successful biofuel-powered test flight just last week. Though I don’t want to drum up any kind of rivalry.

Now, the Pentagon isn’t seeking these alternative fuels just to protect our environment; they are pursuing these homegrown energy sources to protect our national security. Our military leaders recognize the security imperative of increasing the use of alternative fuels, decreasing energy use, and reducing our reliance on imported oil. That’s why the Navy, led by Secretary Mabus who is here today, has set a goal of using 50-percent alternative fuel in all planes, vehicles, and ships in the next ten years. And that’s why the Defense Department has invested $2.7 billion this year alone to improve energy efficiency.

Moving toward clean energy is about our security. It’s about our economy. And it’s about the future of our planet. And what I hope is that the policies we’ve laid out – from hybrid fleets to offshore drilling, from nuclear energy to wind energy – underscore the seriousness with which my administration takes this challenge. It’s a challenge that requires us to think and act anew.

So I am open to proposals from my Democratic and Republican friends. I believe we can move beyond the broken politics of the past. And I know that we can come together to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation that will foster new industries and millions of new jobs protecting our planet and helping us become more energy independent. That’s what we can do. That’s what we must do. And I am confident that that is what we will do. Thank you. ###