Opportunism knocks

President Bush and presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain both recently proposed an end to the federal moratorium on offshore oil drilling. What’s really needed, though, is a moratorium on worthless suggestions from politicians for lowering gas prices.

GOP leaders like Bush and McCain are rolling out their own nonsensical non-solutions to the energy crisis after the Senate this month beat back an equally ridiculous attempt at gas-pump pandering by Democrats. Their bill would have hampered investment in new supply by imposing a shortsighted windfall-profits tax on oil companies, and it might have set off a trade war by allowing the U.S. attorney general to sue OPEC on antitrust grounds. Fortunately for the country, it failed to win enough votes to avoid a filibuster.

Enter Bush, who on Wednesday said he would end his father’s 1990 presidential moratorium on most coastal drilling if Congress would lift its own, separate ban. His reasoning was so contradictory that it’s a wonder he could finish his news conference without cracking up. While conceding that the long-term solution to high oil prices is to pursue alternative energy sources, he argued that “in the short run, the American economy will continue to rely largely on oil, and that means we need to increase supply.” The U.S. Energy Information Administration says that even if oil companies are allowed to tap the 18 billion barrels under coastal waters that are currently off-limits, oil prices wouldn’t be expected to fall until 2030. How is that a short-term solution?

Coastal drilling isn’t just opposed by a bunch of Prius-driving greenies from Santa Barbara. Existing moratoriums were put in place at the behest of tourism interests, fishermen, small businesses and coastal dwellers. That’s because drilling in these waters benefits oil companies but causes direct economic harm to everyone else by trashing beaches, poisoning marine life and ruining views.


Californians have been leery of coastal drilling since a devastating spill from an oil platform off Santa Barbara in 1969. Drilling proponents counter that new technology has greatly decreased the risk of spills, but they nonetheless still happen. And there’s more to worry about than spills. Texas is not known for its beaches, which attract the detritus -- such as tar balls and empty oil drums -- from thousands of oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Drilling releases a host of toxic chemicals, creating such problems as dangerously high mercury levels in fish.

The destruction of our coasts is too high a price to pay for a negligible decrease in gas prices that’s 20 years down the road. The latest Republican oil strategy deserves the same fate as the Democrats’.