July 18, 2008

A Drilled Reputation

By Javier Sierra

The worst thing you can do when you are in a hole is keep on drilling. The country is in a hole called energy crisis and oil addiction. But Senator John McCain and President Bush are planning to keep on drilling.

On June 17, the same day his campaign premiered a TV ad on which he boasted to have stood up to the White House’s global warming policy, Sen. McCain changed course by announcing his plan, which was supported by President Bush, to open up the rest of the country’s coasts to oil drilling. This, he said, “would be very helpful in the short term in resolving our energy crisis.”

But two weeks earlier, on May 29, the same Sen. McCain reiterated his opposition to opening up the country’s coasts to oil exploration by saying that the necessary infrastructure would take “years to develop” and that “it would only postpone or temporarily relieve our dependency on fossil fuels.”

Which McCain is right, the June 17 one or the May 29 one? Are you and the rest of consumers going to benefit from drilling our shores and our dearest and most pristine places? Let’s put all this crude rhetoric through the truth refinery.

For starters, Sen. McCain’s plan will not benefit the consumer until 2030 and only marginally. For instance, the big prize of the new oil drilling boondoggle would be the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. If drilling this, one of the last complete ecosystems left in the Western Hemisphere, would start right now, consumers would not see the first drop of fuel until 2018, it would take another decade to reach peak production and even then it would lower gasoline prices by just three cents, according to federal estimates.

Implicitly, the Senator McCain and President Bush plan blame the environmental movement for hand-cuffing the country’s energy alternatives by opposing opening more coastal areas to oil drilling. What neither Senator McCain nor President Bush would tell you is that Big Oil already has access to 6,000 offshore leases that they are not using.

The federal Minerals Management Service reports that out of the almost 9 billion barrels of oil that are thought to exist offshore, 80 percent of them are already open to the industry, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

Even so, Senator McCain insists this would be a great idea, since “exploiting those reserves would have a psychological impact that I think is beneficial.”

As the New York Times opined, “The only real beneficiaries will be the oil companies that are trying to lock up every last acre of public land before their friends in power — Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney — exit the political stage.”

McCain has also been absent from the political stage when it has come to environmental issues. He has missed every vote on this subject this legislative year. On one of those occasions, he was particularly missed when he skipped a vote that would have added important clean energy incentives to an economic stimulus package, which was defeated by just one vote. And regardless of his reputation as a green legislator, Senator McCain has the lowest environmental voting record in Congress, according to the League of Conservation Voters.

Meanwhile, according to the Consumer Federation of America, this energy crisis, including Big Oil’s earnings drunkenness, has cost the country half a trillion dollars ($500,000,000,000) in the last two years.

The real solutions to our energy crisis, however, are already there:

—By improving the fuel efficiency of cars and small trucks, we would save all the crude we import from the Persian Gulf and all the oil we would extract from the Arctic.

—By opting for clean sources of energy, such as solar, wind and geothermal, we would end our dangerous oil dependency.

—By reducing our energy consumption by only 2 percent a year from now to 2050, we would avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

The environmental movement calls on Senator McCain to support the Consumer-First Energy Act of 2008, which would repeal subsidies from Big Oil and increase funding for renewables, efficiency and conservation, and also to stop, along with President Bush, drilling us all deeper into this hole.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. www.sierraclub.org/ecocentro.

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