The announcement of President Obama's plan to allow drilling off the shore of VA has raised eyebrows and raised the ire of environmentalists. His supporters feel betrayed; his opponents are confused, wondering whether this is a trick or whether they should support this. Considering how well he has played politics so far in his term, we would all do well to put away the rage, scratch a bit below the surface and see what might be going on.
First, we should consider the status quo before the changes go into effect
Congress allowed a prohibition on offshore drilling to expire in 2008 and former President George W. Bush lifted a drilling moratorium that year. Environmental groups and some lawmakers continue to raise concerns about the impact increased drilling would have on coastal areas.
So the reality is that the ban on drilling has been gone for over a year now, thanks to Democrats in the 2008 Congress and former President Bush. The action Obama will be taking is to allow leases to be sold. On the other hand, it also closes areas in Alaska to drilling. It's all part of a much bigger energy initiative; he's giving away so little (based on the status quo) while asking for big energy changes elsewhere.
Offshore drilling is what VA Governor McDonnell wanted. This is what the Republicans campaigned on. Now that they are getting it, are they happy? To quote The Boehner: "Hell No!"
After being played for dopes when given the opportunity to question him during their party meeting last year, and during a bi-partisan healthcare discussion, they must be assuming that Obama is trying to trick them into looking stupid again. Consider this: it creates the deliciously ironic situation where Republicans are (once again) forced to either support Obama or come out against something they've been supporting for years.
This will also pit VA against the other states that rely on their beaches for a big chunk of their income. Do they want tarballs washing up on their prisine shores? To quote The Boehner: "Hell No!" Are these all Red states? Of course they are. This will likely result in lawsuits from these Red states against VA and/or the federal government to prevent
So the end result is we'll have Republicans suffering from whiplash as they reflexively support a states rights move, while reflexively criticizing an Obama program, supporting drilling, while coming out against drilling off THEIR
shores, and all the while very little has changed from the status quo with regards to drilling. So much reaction from so little action.
Ultimately, I doubt any wells will ever be drilled. This will turn into another circus, and - once again - President Obama will be wearing the top hat, and the Republicans will be wearing the clown suits.
Pass the popcorn.