A Flip-Flop We Can Believe In
Today, the Obama administration announced that it was reversing its pre-BP-oil-spill call to open the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coast to oil and gas drilling. Not surprisingly, the move was heralded by environmentalists. After all, flip-flops are ideal beachwear--but not so much if they're coated in oil.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters that "The plan we announced in March was based on our best science at the time," but that "there has been significant additional information that has been gained" since the explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20.
The history of the White House's decision goes deeper, of course. In his State of the Union address in January, Obama called for "a comprehensive energy and climate bill" but also signaled a willingness to horsetrade to get it: He would make "tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development." Two months later, his administration announced it would open 500,000 square miles to oil and gas exploration. But timing is everything, and three weeks after that the nation was staring at daily images of unchecked oil billowing into the Gulf of Mexico, instantly turning the catchphrase "drill, baby, drill" into "spill, baby spill." (Then the November elections came, pretty much obliterating any chance we will hear the words "comprehensive" and "energy bill" together soon.)
There are also some rough-and-tumble politics at stake: The Miami Herald points out that Florida Senator Bill Nelson (D), a longtime drilling opponent, "is facing a crowded field of Republicans looking to challenge him for re-election in 2012," when an embattled Obama will also be counting on critical votes in Florida. Incoming Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) and newly-elected Senator Marco Rubio (R) oppose the Obama administration's most recent move. (There's another flip-flop: The day after he secured the GOP nomination in April, Rubio backed off his support for expanded drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.) The key is Florida's voters, who remain deeply wary of drilling off their tourist-bedecked coasts: A Quinnipiac University poll in July found that 72 percent of Floridians support letting the state's voters decide whether to permanently ban offshore oil-drilling.