Let’s Not Drill Now

Somehow, the “Drill, Baby, Drill” crowd, which also includes Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, has responded to the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf by reiterating its stance that we must drill everywhere, starting yesterday. My stance on offshore drilling has basically been that the benefit to U.S. consumers is negligible, but if done safely, it’s a good bargaining chip to extract other concessions on carbon reducing energy policy. Of course, the Obama administration already preemptively conceded the point, but even that fact notwithstanding, is offshore drilling even a net positive at all? Annie Lowery quotes David Kotok of Cumberland Investors on the potential cost of the spill.

In the best case, he thinks:

Containment chambers are put in place and they catch the outflow from the three ruptures that are currently pouring 200,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf every day. If this works, it will take until June to complete. The chambers are 30-foot-high steel configurations that must be placed on the ocean floor at a depth of one mile. This has never been done before. If early containment is successful, the damages from this accident will be in the tens of billions. The cleanup will take years. The economic impact will be in the five states that have frontal coastline on the Gulf of Mexico: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

And in the worst, he thinks:

This spew stoppage takes longer to reach a full closure; the subsequent cleanup may take a decade. The Gulf becomes a damaged sea for a generation. The oil slick leaks beyond the western Florida coast, enters the Gulfstream and reaches the eastern coast of the United States and beyond. Use your imagination for the rest of the damage. Monetary cost is now measured in the many hundreds of billions of dollars.

Holy shit — and that’s just the economic impact. There’s also environmental impact to consider. Now let’s look at the benefit, shall we? This graph from the EIA always makes the point nicely:

Basically, offshore drilling has almost no ability to reduce the cost of oil for U.S. consumers. What it does have the ability to do though is to continue the criminal (metaphor) growth of oil company profits, and by extension, replenish campaign coffers of politicians in states with offshore oil reserves.

Palin and Inherent Links

Behold, as Sarah Palin takes to the Washington Post to deride cap-and-trade legislation without even once mentioning “climate change,” the more politic and civil cousin of “global warming.” As Kate Sheppard says, “this op-ed is just bad enough to make me wonder if Palin may have written it herself.” Indeed. Palin predictably opens with with the simultaneously ironic and sadly accurate attack on the media, who in her view, spends too much time covering her press conferences and not enough time addressing the policy issues of our day. And true enough! But unfortunately, the wheels fall off shortly thereafter.

At first I was going to do a “quote by quote” rebuttal of the Palin’s assertions, but instead I’ll just post the requisite links so you don’t risk brain damage from reading the op-ed itself.

  1. EPA projected GDP with Waxman-Markey
  2. Cost estimates from the CBO
  3. The minimal effect of expanded off-shore drilling

You’ll note there are only three links, and none of them go to studies showing the costs — both human and economic — that global warming will cause. That, of course, is because Palin doesn’t address the notion that climate change is harming the planet. After all, it’s much easier to win an argument that’s literally one-sided — who can blame her? What’s remarkable though, is Palin’s ability to generate complete nonsense even without conceding climate change is a problem. It’s pretty impressive:

American prosperity has always been driven by the steady supply of abundant, affordable energy. Particularly in Alaska, we understand the inherent link between energy and prosperity, energy and opportunity, and energy and security. Consequently, many of us in this huge, energy-rich state recognize that the president’s cap-and-trade energy tax would adversely affect every aspect of the U.S. economy.

For the sake of argument, let’s allow the first point, that American prosperity has always been driven by a steady supply of abundandt, affordable energy. Anyway, I’d really like to hear Palin explain why there is an “inherent” link between energy and security. Let’s say, for example, that the entire world recevied its energy from the sun. If this were the case, then no nation would have a competitive advantage when it came to powering their societies, and thus would have no need to benefit from another nation’s expense. Thus, the link between energy and security is not “inherent.” What Palin means, however, is that there is an inherent link between limited, valuable resources and security. To Palin, this “consequently” (?) proves that a cap-and-trade plan would adversely affect the economy, but what it actually demonstrates is the need to move away from limited, valuable resources. Palin’s solution to this problem, it seems, is to rely more heavily on limited, valuable resources.

Cap and Trade Politics

The Wonk Room has a post sharing part of an interview they did with Donna Edwards (D-MD) on cap and trade legislation. Edwards supports the bill, but believes revenues should be invested in the development and construction of green technologies. This contrasts with Obama’s budget plan, which distributes revenues from a cap and trade plan as the “Making Work Pay Taxcut.”

But ultimately this is just a question of politics, right? That is, it doesn’t really matter whether the revenues levied from a cap and trade plan “go” to a tax cut or whether they “go” to investment in green technologies so long as revenues are going to both. The logic behind tying cap and trade to a tax cut is that cap and trade is inherently regressive. Lower income families spend a greater share of their income on energy than do wealthier ones, so the tax cut equalizes the burden. Green infrastructure investment will presumably accomplish the same goal by lowering energy costs, but that won’t change the fact that both green infrastructure investment and the Making Work Pay Tax Cut receive federal dollars. Six of one, half dozen of the other.

If you want to have an argument about which one is a more politically compelling choice to marry to cap and trade, that’s fine.  But so long as green infrastructure investment remains a part of Obama’s agenda, it doesn’t really matter where revenues from a cap and trade plan “go.”

NSOTU Thougths

Some of you may have read me live-twittering, others perhaps not, but here were my basic thoughts:

TONE: I like how it started out sober and built towards a more positive conclusion. Brief moments of levity were a nice touch. I expect this will continue the trend of appearing to work in a bipartisan fashion while pursuing a (mandated) liberal agenda.


  • The bank plan seemed no clearer to me than it has been as articulated previously (it seemed to explain how it was going to work, not why it was going to work). On the other hand, Obama delivered the plan with a certain amount of force that should quell the talking heads — an important step. Note that the word “nationalize” (or form thereof) was not used.
  • I was surprised Obama asked directly for a cap and trade plan. Of all his agenda items, this seems the most ambitious politically.
  • I was quite pleased Obama explicitly framed fixing Medicare & Medicaid as a broader health care problem and basically brushed aside Social Security reform.
  • I’m not sure of the details of the housing plan, but it was important politically to argue clearly the plan won’t bail out those who were irresponsible (it remains to be seen if this is the case…on a side note, I’m not entirely sure whether it matters as a practical policy question, but it’s obviously a politically charged one, a la Santelli).
  • The halving of the deficit by 2012 seems ambitious and politically risky. I’m assuming Orzsag knows something I don’t.

That’s basically it for now. I suspect it will play well with the talking heads.


  • Forgot it was quite notable Obama emphasized he wants health care this year.
  • Marc Ambinder tweetsGOPers, labor folks note that Obama didn’t mention card check in his speech.”

Wax, Man

It’s uncanny that the stream of political news has been almost relentlessly good, and we can add to that the ahem, defenestration of John Dingell from the House Energy and Commerce Committee in favor of Henry Waxman, who is not only unbound by the interests of major polluters, but also extremely good looking.

It was expected that Dingell would carry the vote, so I wonder what role, if any, the Obama transition team may have had in whipping votes.

The Interests Manifest

Kevin Drum, commenting on a report that Rep. Dingell is poised to defeat Rep. Waxman’s challenge for Chairmanship of the Energy committee (bad news):

Dingell, who has been in the House for over 50 years, is a caretaker of Detroit’s interests and an impediment to bold action on climate change. It’s a shame that he’ll be chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce during the Obama Administration.

You would think that as the House gets more and more Democratic, liberal priorities would get a stronger hearing. But every blue district in the country is already held by a Democrat. At this point, the DCCC is using conservative and moderate Democratic challengers to pick off seats in red areas. The paradoxical effect is that as the Democratic caucus grows more powerful, it also grows more conservative.

All the more reason why it’s important health care reform start with Congress. Obama has already stated his first priority will the financial crisis, his second stated priority will be “energy independence”, and health care reform taking the bronze. If Congress produces a health reform bill ready for Obama’s signature, Obama can invest his political capital extracting votes from conservative Democrats and (the dwindling) reality-based House Republicans to address climate change.

California Energy

One of the good things about living in a country that doesn’t completely centralize power is that some states can try out new ideas and see how they work without forcing everyone else to sign up. I think it’s also safe to say that California has been on the vanguard of this trend, and that more often that not, these crazy liberal notions they are wont to try work out pretty well. Conveniently enough for my argument, a new study by economist David Roland-Holst shows that California’s energy efficiency policies have created more than 1.5 million jobs between 1977 and 2007, while eliminating only 25,000. What’s more, they’ve also curbed energy costs!

The basic theory underlying the stimulus effect of efficiency policy is that energy efficiency frees up disposable income to be spent elsewhere. The theory continues that because energy creation is a relatively simple economic process, energy expenditure is essentially thrown into an economic black hole. On the other, other consumer industries operate at the confluence of a much greater number of economic actors.

When the dollar goes to groceries, it animates much more job intensive expenditure chains including retailers, wholesalers, food processors, transport, and farming. Moreover, a larger proportion of these supply chains (and particularly services that are the dominant part of expenditure) resides within the state, capturing more job creation from Californians for California. Moreover, the state reduced its energy import dependence, while directing a greater percent of its consumption to in-state economic activities.

It’s important to understand that the argument for protecting the environment is best made in terms of economic interest. While communing with Earth Mother Gaea and hugging trees certainly has the correct goal in mind — the preservation of the planet we inhabit — it’s argument relies too heavily on personal morality. Rather, green infrastructure investment is good the economy, national security, and the earth.

Drill, Baby, Drill

I’ve written previously about the neglible impact that enhanced domestic drilling would have, but as Republicans chant “drill, baby, drill”, I thought it would be wise, but probably fruitless, to mention that arguing that expanded domestic drilling will reduce dependence on “foreign oil” is about as daft as believing it will lower prices at the pump. Let’s follow the illogic all the way through.

So let’s say God’s way is implemented and expanded drilling offshore and in ANWR is opened. Next, private oil companees like ExxonMobil set up shop (this doesn’t happen overnight, by the way) and begin extracting oil. This is where Republicans seem to begin entering know-nothing mode.

John McCain would have you believe that this oil is magically refined and dumped from the heavens, and through divine osmosis, fuels America’s cars and reduces prices at the pump. The desirability of this scenario notwithstanding, that’s not quite how it works.

In reality, crude oil is a commodity, which means that because it’s essentially the same anywhere, it’s price is based on global demand. This means that when oil companies extract crude oil, they essentially put it on eBay, only the bidders aren’t people looking for knock off Armani, but multinational oil companies who refine the oil, foreign governments (as recent lessons in Iraq teach us), or worse, the much dreaded oil speculators. This oil is sold and in turn refined to be finally sold as gasoline at the pump (among other things). The process is obviously more intricate than this, but the basic truth to be distilled is that oil drilled in America goes to the highest bidder, not necessarily Americans.

Now, some Republicans when faced with this salient truth will suggest that increasing world supply by tapping more geopolitically stable areas will help reduce the price of oil. There is some basic truth to this (though, as mentioned before, its impact would be quite limited), but the larger problem is that because oil is traded globally, so long as there is instability anywhere where oil is extracted, the increase in price will be felt everywhere. The long and short of this is that so long as we import roughly two-thirds of our oil, enhanced domestic drilling will do little to insulate Americans from the problems of foreign instability.

Alternatively, the oil could always be nationalized, but somehow I doubt Republicans are interested in that.

The McCain Energy Plan

To build on a post I wrote yesterday, but was uploaded to the blog today, Jonathan Martin at the Politico picks up on a YouTube clip the Obama campaign drudged up (video in link) featuring John McCain offering no nonsense, basic solutions for conserving energy in a time where oil prices are set to remain high. You know, absurd and out of touch ideas like turning off the lights and reducing driving. No word on whether the Obama camp will be mailing reporters light-switch covers trumpeting the McCain energy plan. Anyway, Jonathan Martin takes the opportunity to make a glib and shallow observation.

McCain has given so many interviews over the years, in print and on TV, that the opportunities to find him in a contradiction or at least semi-contradiction are limitless. The oppo cup runneth over. Such is the downside of being the more experienced and accessible candidate.

The speech referenced took place in April, well before drill lust 2008 became the GOP political strategy du jour. While it might be true that more access might, but not necessarily (especially if you’re an experienced politician), lead to more gaffes, it’s definitely true that unabashed political opportunism also leads to embarrassing moments. You don’t hear McCain talking too much now about how oil prices are here to stay, even though it’s commonly accepted that offshore drilling will have almost negligible effects. This particular McCain moment has nothing to do with expanded access (it was at a press conference anyhow, not on the Straight Talk Express), and everything to do with McCain’s political opportunism.

I can also admit that Obama has been a bit of an opportunist of late himself, but then again, his entire message isn’t based on being a BS-crusading serial truth teller. People tend to forget that McCain was largely a party line Republican until he realized he could parlay his Maverickosityness into votes during the 2000 election.