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Ok, GOP, Let’s Talk About Compromise November 3, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Congress, Election, Politics.
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I made the mistake of turning on the TV this morning.  Ms. Generic Correspondent was interviewing triumphant supporters from John Boehner’s district in Ohio about what their win means for America.  What I heard floored me.  This was live and I was too stunned to think to record it, so I’m paraphrasing:

OHIO RESIDENT:  “For the last 2 years, it’s been Obama’s way or the highway.  Finally we’ll get some compromise in this country.”

REPORTER: “You really think this election will result in more compromise?”

OHIO RESIDENT: “Yup.  That’s what this election said to Congress.  It’s time for Democrats to actually work with Republicans now.”

For starters, we really need to set the record straight on the alleged liberalism of Obama’s first two years.  He embraced tax cuts and offshore drilling and punted on much of the liberal agenda.  There’s a reason the base didn’t come out to support Democrats yesterday, and it’s not because we went too far.  More on this later.

Back to Boehner’s band of merry [white] men, this was not an isolated incident.  Most of the guys that were interviewed in this segment spoke about compromise.  What’s wrong with a conciliatory post-victory tone?  It’s a disingenuous 180-degree reversal.  Sure, one district’s Kool-Aid could go bad, but Boehner’s?  That’s bizarre.

Just last week, in Boehner’s own words:

“Now is not a time for compromise, and I can tell you we will not compromise on our principles.”

And you want to tell Democrats about misinterpreting a mandate?  Please.

I know conservative activists only listen to their Fox News echo chamber, but surely they must at least listen to their candidate when he’s on Fox News! Especially when that man is now a glowing beacon in the House of Representatives, piercing the darkness to guide them through.… ok, I don’t have an end to this metaphor – the man is orange.

The point is, the next two years will be nothing but gridlock.  Congressional Republicans have come right out and said that their single highest legislative priority is making sure Obama doesn’t get reelected.

That means the only “compromise” they will propose or accept is the kind that makes Obama less appealing to his base.  They will advance nothing that doesn’t detract from Obama’s re-electability.  House Republicanswill reach across the aisle, but they will extend a sword, not their empty hands; they will allow Obama to move forward only by pulling himself up their blade towards the hilt.

With this strategy in place, let me assure you, compromise is dead.  Conservatives hijacked the contemporary narrative, but in retrospect we will see that Obama briefly attempted centrist bipartisanship – and it failed.  Liberals were unsatisfied and conservatives either feigned or successfully deluded themselves into their trusty partisan outrage.

Obama’s attempt at compromise was unilateral disarmament, and the GOP hit with everything it had the moment he let down his shield.  Clearly, that was good short-term electoral strategy.  Obama had hoped that Americans would appreciate this effort to transcend partisan politics.  That did not happen.

So yesterday, the GOP won big.  But conservatives, don’t you dare for a second claim to have the moral high ground and make false overtures of cooperation.  That’s not what’s going to happen and it’s not even what you want.  You wanted gridlock and now you’ve got it.  Congratulations.

Now own it.  Or as your mercifully endangered Mama Grizzlies would say, “Man Up.”

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An Appropriately Politicized Oil Spill June 16, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Climate Change, Coal, Congress, Offshore Drilling, Politics.
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Republicans are accusing President Obama of politicizing this oil spill.  They say that he is unfairly pushing his energy agenda instead of solving this Gulf Coast tragedy.  They are wrong.

Obama recently addressed the nation about the oil spill in a speech from the Oval Office.  Even before he gave that speech, Republicans offered a preemptive rebuttal. House minority leader John Boehner (R-OH) released a statement entitled:

“President Obama Should Not Use Oil Spill Crisis To Push for Job-Killing Nat’l Energy Tax”

Mike Pence (R-IN) explained it from another angle:

“The American People Don’t Want This Administration to Exploit the Crisis in the Gulf to Advance Their Disastrous Energy Policies”

First of all, both of those titles and the press releases themselves are loaded with politicized spin and focus group-tested buzzwords.  Way to depoliticize the oil spill, Republicans!  Leading by example, as usual.

Secondly, I would ask Mr. Pence to look at the Gulf and tell me whose energy policies are really disastrous – Republicans’ or Democrats’?

Republican criticisms miss their mark because the ongoing oil spill is intimately tied to energy reform. It makes both political and logical sense to connect the two.  Even factors you might think are separate are closely related.

For example, retrofitting 75,000 houses would save as much energy – each year – as has spilled into the Gulf since the spill began (maybe a bit less, I don’t know what estimate this calculation used).  And the home efficiency legislation (“Home Star”) that recently passed in the House is expected to retrofit 3.3 million homes.  If our cars were electric instead of gas-powered, those energy savings could replace our gas usage and we wouldn’t even have needed the oil that is now gushing into the Gulf.

Republicans are complaining because right now because the American public is actually demanding change, and that conflicts with the Republican status quo agenda (see stats in final paragraph).

Those who charge Obama with exploiting this disaster for pure political gain are misrepresenting the situation.  Political exploitation would involve only a tangential, non-casual relationship between the initiating disaster and the proposed response – in other words, if the proposed policy did not actually address the event or prevent it from happening again.

For example, political exploitation would be an appropriate accusation if a president attempted to ban wind power after a hurricane or tornado.  The connection is tenuous and the solution doesn’t prevent the problem.  That is not what’s happening here.

People keep drawing parallels between Hurricane Katrina and this oil spill, but there is a fundamental difference between the two: Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster; the BP oil spill is a manmade disaster in nature.  People caused it.  And people can keep it from happening again.  (The same is obviously not true of hurricanes.)

Hurricanes do not deserve a legislative response.  A preventable, manmade disaster of this magnitude most definitely does.

Cheap oil fuels the American life as we know it today.  It is our ravenous consumption of petroleum products that drives oil companies to drill ultra-deepwater wells.   As we continue to deplete the world’s cheaper, more accessible oil reserves, more dangerous, expensive drilling is the only option.

Yes, BP’s careless corner-cutting and deplorable disregard for safety caused this spill, but they would not be drilling there if we didn’t demand oil so greatly.

So when the President advances a plan to wean America off of its oil addiction, it is not opportunism or political exploitation, it is literally the appropriate response to this catastrophe.  The only way to completely eliminate the threat of another blowout is to stop the drilling altogether.  And the best way to do that is to end our addiction to oil.

Climate/energy bills, such as that passed by the House last year and the one expected in the Senate soon, essentially seek to accomplish 3 goals:

  1. Put a price on carbon dioxide emissions.
  2. Spur aggressive investment in renewable energy technologies.
  3. Increase our energy security/independence.

Oil is related to all three goals – negatively.

Greenhouse gas  (GHG) emissions, such as carbon dioxide, are what is known in public policy as a “negative externality.”  They are an additional cost that is not reflected in the actual price of a good.  Oil today is bought and sold at prices that do not reflect the damage that GHG emissions cause.  (A “positive externality” would be something like the pleasant smell wafting out of a chocolate factory, for which the company is not compensated for providing.)

Putting a price on carbon will enable the oil market to function more properly because the price of oil will be more accurate (this process is known as “internalizing” the externality).  For all their chest-beating about the “free market,” conservatives have done much to stifle the freedom of energy markets.

The only reason oil is so cheap today is because it is massively subsidized.  Fossil fuel industries benefit from $550 BILLON EACH YEAR in tax breaks and government subsidies.  These subsidies keep prices artificially low.

Our country grows incensed at $4 gas.  Did you know that gasoline costs well over $6/gal in many European countries?  That’s not because it’s harder to get gas there.  America would be in shambles at those prices today.  This is a serious vulnerability.  And as long as those prices remain so low, they stifle investment in newer, cleaner, renewable sources of energy, and ensure that continue to remain vulnerable to, and dependent upon, oil.

To become energy secure, we must free ourselves from our reliance upon oil.  The U.S. passed its oil production peak in 1970, and as we continue to literally run out of American oil, the distinction between “foreign oil” and “oil” will necessarily blur.  It is impossible for us to drill our way to energy independence, because we account for 20% of the world’s oil consumption but have just 2% of its remaining supply.

New drilling won't make us more secure. Only using less oil can do that.

Coal is not an option because of the horrendously large amount of pollution it produces and its outsized contributions to climate change.  Nuclear energy will be the topic of a different post, but will not be our silver bullet.  The only energy sources that can power our country for generations to come are renewables such as solar, wind and geothermal.  We must invest in their research, development, and deployment as quickly as humanly possible.

This is what the President proposes, and it is indeed what we must do.  It was the right decision before this oil spill, and it remains the right decision during/after it.

Crises are political opportunities.  That is a fact.  In such moments, the public demands action, and leaders enjoy leniency not afforded to them under normal circumstances.  It is true that leaders have abused these powers in the past: Julius Caesar and Hitler come to mind, and George W. Bush used an attack by a nation-less terrorist group to invade an arbitrary country.

But this is not one of those situations.  It is undeniably an opportunity to advance the long-stalled energy agenda, but doing so is a proper and responsible course of action in response to this oil spill.

To exploit this crisis to resurrect his climate change legislation is just wrong.” –Mike Pence (R-IN).

Fighting climate change and reducing our oil dependence are two sides of the same coin.  Doing one accomplishes the other.  To reform our energy policy right now without addressing climate would be criminally negligent.

There has been a flurry of energy polling in the wake of the oil spill:

  • 87% of Americans favor comprehensive energy legislation that encourages renewable energy sources.
  • 76% of Americans support regulating carbons dioxide as a pollutant.
  • 69% of Americans think that the US should make a large- or medium-scale effort to reduce global warming even if it incurs large or moderate economic costs.

Tell me, Republicans, who is defying the will of the people?

Kill, baby, kill April 2, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Congress, Offshore Drilling, Politics.
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8 comments

***This post has become much more relevant since the BP oil spill began.  For a complete list of offshore drilling/oil spill questions and answers, click here.***

On Wednesday, President Obama unveiled a proposal to open vast swathes of American coastlines to new offshore drilling.  I have never opposed one of the President’s decisions more strongly than this, which makes sense because this move was made purely as a concession to congressional Republicans.  Conservatives would have you believe that science is a political debate, but there are some things that just cannot be spun.  Offshore drilling is one of them.

Below, I will demonstrate that there is literally no good reason to increase our offshore drilling.  Not one.  …Unless you’re an oil company.

Domestic drilling CANNOT lower oil or gas prices. Just last year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) analyzed what would happen if we fully opened our coasts to offshore drilling.  Their conclusion: by 2020, gas prices remain unchanged. By 2030, US gas prices would be $0.03/gallon lower. That’s it.  And it’s easy to see why:

We just don’t have enough oil to make a difference. We, the US, represent 25% of world oil demand and <3% of the world’s supply.  The price of oil, as a global commodity, is determined on the global market.  We produce so little of the global supply that we simply can’t affect prices from the supply side. The only exception to this is when regional refining capabilities are temporarily decreased (as in the wake of hurricanes), but this scenario can only raise local prices above the global market price, not lower them.  Additionally, since OPEC is a cartel, even if we were miraculously able to significantly affect prices, OPEC could simply reduce their supply to negate that effect.

We don't have enough oil to drill our way out of this problem.

As of 2009, the US consumed approximately about 1.5 million barrels of oil per day. So even in a recession, we use roughly 8 billion barrels of oil per year.  According to the EIA, the federal drilling moratorium only blocked drilling for 18.17 billion barrels of offshore oil (a little over 2 year’s worth) out of an estimated 59.09 billion barrels offshore in the Lower 48 states, with most of that unavailable oil off of California, which is wisely united in bipartisan support against offshore drilling.

Oil companies already have access to about 34 billion barrels of offshore oil that they have yet to develop. When you take into account realistic production rates, the fact that this oil would have to be extracted over the course of many decades and the scope of the current proposal, we are talking about displacing from imports just 1-1.5% of our annual consumption.  That DOES NOT make us more energy independent or secure.

Offshore drilling is still a dirty, dangerous risk. Just last year, an oil rig off the northwestern coast of Australia sprung a leak that couldn’t be plugged for nearly 3 months.  An estimated 9 million gallons spilled into the ocean, covering more than 9,000 square miles of ocean. The drilling rig and platform in question were all the newest technology, having been built in the last 3 years, and they caused a spill nearly as large as Exxon Valdez.  Offshore drilling poses a grave threat to our nation’s beaches, oceans and wildlife.  Not to mention billions of dollars and millions of jobs in sustainable tourism and fishing industries along the nation’s coasts.  We risk so much to obtain so little.

This is the new, modern oil rig that spilled oil for almost 3 months just last year, causing an oil spill big enough to be seen from space. And this exact thing could happen off of any of our beaches here in the U.S.

Drilling is a long-term proposition. Any politician who touts offshore drilling as an immediate fix for gas prices (or anything, for that matter) is flat out lying to you.  Even if we opened the continental shelf and/or ANWR tomorrow, oil wouldn’t begin to flow for at least 10 years, and maximum production wouldn’t be achieved before 2027. Only THEN could we get our prices lowered by mere cents per gallon.

“American” oil doesn’t help America. We don’t have nationalized oil companies. In many other countries, oil companies are government-run.  A country taps its own resources and distributes them as the government sees fit.  That, for better or for worse, does not happen here.  “Our” oil companies are huge, privately owned companies that span the globe and act solely in the interest of their stockholders.  It is true that freeing ourselves from our dependence upon unstable, unfriendly countries for their oil would be better for America.  But offshore drilling does almost nothing to accomplish this.

Industry front groups try to set up cost-benefit analyses to show us how much money we save/earn by drilling domestically, but the American people (who do not own stock in Exxon) don’t benefit from US oil company profits.  We still pay the same money for the same gas.  I’m not endorsing foreign oil, I’m just saying that US oil companies are not our saviors or even our friends.  They are just companies trying to make as much money as they can.

And just for the record, oil companies already have access to about 34 billion barrels of offshore oil that they have yet to seriously develop.

“All of the Above” is not a solution. Whether we’re talking about federal dollars or private investment, money is limited.  Every dollar spent on a needlessly dangerous and unsustainable fuel source like oil could be more efficiently and effectively spent on renewable energy for our future.

So why did Obama do it? On the surface, the political calculus is there: combined with his recent concession on nuclear power, offering conservatives another of their major energy objectives could pave the way for a comprehensive climate/energy bill.  But this really doesn’t do it for me.  Only a handful of Republicans were “in play” for climate change anyways, and this doesn’t appear to have convinced anyone else.  Indeed, most congressional Republicans angrily panned the plan as “job killing” because it doesn’t jeopardize every last beach in America.  The most moderate Republicans offered only tepid praise for the plan as “a good first step.”  It has been suggested that this centrist tack removes this issue from the upcoming midterm elections amidst the inevitable higher gas prices of summer, but as long as any coast remains protected, I think that talking point remains (and John Boehner clearly agrees).  I really don’t have a good explanation for this.

Sen. Lautenberg put a more accurate spin on the omnipresent conservative mantra proposed by the President today: “kill, baby, kill,” because offshore drilling threatens not only marine wildlife but also coastal economies and jobs that rely on clean beaches and healthy oceans.   The day after this unfortunate announcement, the President released his long anticipated tougher gas mileage standards for cars.  This move will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program.  That’s 1.8 billion barrels of oil we don’t have to drill for or buy, and we can achieve these savings without sacrificing the Chesapeake Bay, North Carolina’s gorgeous Outer Banks, or that beach you go to that you love so much.  These are the solutions we need.  Drilling just isn’t the answer.

This graphic shows the new areas that would be open to drilling in President Obama's new proposal.

One final point worth mentioning:

Big Oil profits from our suffering. With soaring gas prices in recent years, the oil companies have been posting record profits while the American public has struggled.  The fanatical support oil companies enjoy from the rank and file Republican is sadly ironic as these companies profit at the expense of regular people.  While they do contribute handsomely to campaigns, these companies do nothing for the everyday conservatives who champion their cause.  It really is a testament to the expertise with which the GOP and industry advertising/lobbyists manipulate the public.  And to add insult to injury, the Big 5 are spending most of their profits on buying back their own stock.  They are spending under 4% of their profits on exploration for new oil and even less on research and development.

This makes me pretty angry, but I’ve had people tell me “well, they’re private companies making a profit.  Good for them.”  Just because I am a Democrat does not mean I automatically begrudge businesses for their success.  This is different for one fundamental reason: the oil industry is very heavily subsidized.  Oil companies receive millions and millions of taxpayer dollars and tax breaks each year.  If they are going to continue to be supported by the American people, they must act on our behalf.  Their expenditures clearly indicate that they do not.