Monday, August 18, 2008

When Will Common Sense Trump Self Interest?

After months of following the debates on the US "oil crisis", watching gasoline prices rise and then slowly decline and, spending most of July watching the endless parade of charts and graphs pro and con offshore drilling on C-SPAN, I've come to the conclusion that self-interest is clearly winning out over common sense.

Here's why I've reached this conclusion.

1. A recent Rasmussen Report poll* found that 64% of the American public now supports opening up protected coastal areas to off-shore oil drilling. I suspect that many in this group are the same people who still don't believe in global warming, still believe that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 bombings and, now believe that China is drilling for oil off the coast of Florida.

2. I'm willing to guess that the vast majority of the aforementioned 64% probably doesn't own coastal property or work in the fishing or resort industry. I suspect that they have an image that coastal residents all live like residents in Malibu. NOT!

3. I'll go out on a limb and say that the 55% of Americans (as cited by the Rasmussen poll) who agree with the Republican proposal for building more nuclear plants probably won't want to have one of these new plants placed within 10 miles of their home or have the nuclear waste stored within a hundred miles.
I also suspect that they would be highly upset if someone proposed placing a wind farm near their home. Too unsightly.

4. I suspect that the vast majority of people who now support off-shore drilling might be a little upset if their community was re-zoned or their property declared as eminent domain in order to build all of the support facilities for the new off-shore drilling platforms.

5. You don't have to try to fool all of the people, all of the time. You only have to feed them enough mis-information to get them to put self interest ahead of common sense.

As Peter Dizikes pointed out in his article, "Did you hear that Alaska has more oil than the Middle East?" for there are probably more myths, half truths and twists of science being pumped out about offshore oil drilling than there will ever be barrels of oil pumped from the sea.

Dizikes writes:

"You don't have to drill deep into our political discourse to find suspect stories about oil, with politicians peddling the flagrantly false notion that China is producing oil off the coast of Florida, while right-wing activist Jerome Corsi claims oil is not a fossil fuel but "a natural product the Earth generates constantly."

Such declarations serve a political purpose: to make oil drilling seem like an easy solution to our current energy crisis, to marginalize warnings that we are running short on oil, and to stymie efforts at conservation or developing alternatives to fossil fuels. "

Last week Eoin O'Carroll of The Bright Green Blog wrote a great article debunking four of the most popular myths that are interwoven in the offshore drilling debate.

Myth #1: We know how much oil there is. Opponents of offshore drilling frequently cite a report by the Department of Energy saying that, according to the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, there are “only” about 18 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil in the currently off-limits Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions. As a Tuesday editorial in the Washington Post points out, the MMS arrived at those estimates using seismic equipment that is now outdated

Myth #2: It would be “our” oil. “The American people deserve more access to American oil,” said Rep. Mike Pence (R) of Indiana on the House floor recently. That may be true, but any oil drilled off America’s shores won’t automatically be American oil. It will belong to ExxonMobil. Or Shell. Or BP. Or another multinational company that will be just as free to sell the stuff to China or India as they are to sell it to Americans.

( Just ask the people of Louisiana who owns the oil being drilled off of their coast and how much their state's residents are benefiting from that oil. Robert, I'm not picking on Louisiana. )

Myth #3: Drilling offshore in the heavily regulated US would prevent more environmentally destructive drilling elsewhere. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer put forth this argument a couple weeks back in an op-ed for the Washington Post, in which he criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s environmentally motivated opposition to offshore drilling.

The only way that we would really get any significant amount of production to shift from the developing world to the United States would be if it were cheaper to drill here. And that’s not going to happen, partly because of the very environmental regulations that Krauthammer touts, but mostly because the stuff is way down there at the bottom of the ocean.

Myth #4: China is currently drilling off the coast of Florida. “[O]il is being drilled right now 60 miles off the coast of Florida,” said Vice President Dick Cheney in a speech to the US Chamber of Commerce in June. “But we’re not doing it, the Chinese are, in cooperation with the Cuban government. Even the communists have figured out that a good answer to high prices is more supply.”

“Right at this moment, some 60 miles or less off the coast of Key West, Florida, China has the green light to drill for oil in order to lower energy costs in that country,” said House Republican leader John Boehner on his website.

The myth seems to have originate(d) in a piece by conservative columnist George F. Will, who has since run a correction. Mr. Cheney’s office also issued a retraction. But this hasn’t stopped people from still circulating this rumor. The site Talking Points Memo has compiled a list of over a dozen current and former Republican members of Congress who have pushed this falsehood.

And finally, let's address the biggest myth of all --

ExxonMobil et al will lower oil prices in the US if they are given more oil leases, offshore or anywhere else for that matter.

ExxonMobil that company that recently posted the best quarterly profit ever. ExxonMobil, who according to The New York Times, earned "
nearly $90,000 a minute over the quarter." ExxonMobil who still refuses to accept real responsibility and pay compensation for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Nineteen years, people.

If you believe that ExxonMobil is going to voluntarily lower gasoline for altruistic reasons, boy do I have some snake oil to sell you.

And now, the Democratic Presidential Candidate, Barack Obama says that he's willing to compromise on offshore oil drilling the same way that he compromised on the FISA bill's telecom immunity for illegal wiretapping.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm disappointed with the actions of a lot of politicians these days.

Related items:

* 64% Now Support Offshore Drilling; 42% See it as Best Way to Reduce Oil Prices

Related posts:

A Healthy Dose of Economic Reality

It's Time For An Intervention

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