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Saturday Aug 2, 2008

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Food Politics Edition

Today at 10 AM ET, The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast on WHMP-AM in Western MA. My special guest was Jill Richardson of La Vida Locavore, who discussed the state of food politics and how individuals can become more involved in establishing a safe and environmentally sound food supply.

The audio podcast for the show is here: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3).

NOTE: I have to eat some of the words in my opening monologue, which is taped on Friday morning.

I argued on the show that Sen. Barack Obama "planted his flag against coastal drilling," based on his Thursday speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

Instead of offering any real plan to lower gas prices, Senator McCain touts his support for George Bush's plan for offshore oil drilling. But even the Bush Administration acknowledges that offshore oil drilling will have little impact on prices. It won't lower prices today. It won't lower prices during the next Administration. In fact, we won't see a drop of oil from this drilling for almost ten years.

While this won't save you at the pump, it sure has done a lot to raise campaign dollars. Last month, Senator McCain raised more than a million dollars from oil and gas company executives and employees – most of which came after he announced his drilling plan in front of a bunch of oil executives in Houston.

This is not a strategy designed to end our energy crisis – it's a strategy designed to get politicians through an election, and that's exactly why Washington has failed to do anything about our energy dependence for the last thirty years.

However, on Friday afternoon, a bipartisan group of 10 senators announced a compromise energy bill, which would lift the ban on coastal drilling for Florida; allow Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia to do the same; while keeping the ban in place for the Pacific Coast and the northeast). At the same time, the plan would take away tax giveaways to oil companies to fund $84 billion over 10 years towards investment in clean energy and fuel-efficiency.

Obama embraced such an approach in concept, without endorsing all the specifics.

He told the Palm Beach Post:

My interest is in making sure we've got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices. If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage - I don't want to be so rigid that we can't get something done.

Though in the interview, he did not abandon the facts about drilling:

I think it's important for the American people to understand we're not going to drill our way out of this problem. It's also important to recognize if you start drilling now you won't see a drop of oil for ten years, which means its not going to have a significant impact on short-term prices. Every expert agrees on that.

And he put out a statement specific to the "Gang of 10" proposal:

"For too long, partisan gridlock and special interest influence has blocked progress on some of the most urgent challenges facing the American people, and that is especially true when it comes to our energy crisis. That is why I welcome today's bipartisan effort as an important step in the process of reducing our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, and why I look forward to September's bipartisan energy summit.

"Today's announcement includes many of the policies I've been fighting for during my time in the Senate and over the course of this campaign. It would repeal tax breaks for oil companies so that we can invest billions in fuel-efficient cars, help our automakers re-tool, and make a genuine commitment to renewable sources of energy like wind power, solar power, and the next generation of clean, affordable biofuels.

"Like all compromises, it also includes steps that I haven't always supported. I remain skeptical that new offshore drilling will bring down gas prices in the short-term or significantly reduce our oil dependence in the long-term, though I do welcome the establishment of a process that will allow us to make future drilling decisions based on science and fact.

"But I've always believed that finding consensus will be essential to solving our energy crisis, and today's package represents a good faith effort at a new bipartisan beginning. In the coming days, I'll be laying out additional steps I believe we must take to bring down gas prices for good and truly free ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil."

This morning, Obama was asked about it. The Swamp reports:

"This wasn't really a new position,'' he said today. "What I was saying was, we can't drill our way out of the problem.

"What that means is, if we want to have true oil independence, true energy independence, then we're going to have to become more efficient,'' Obama said. "What I said was... what I've seen so far (from a so-called 'Gang of 10'' energy bill which several senators are promoting) has some of the very aggressive elements'' that he wants to see in an energy plan.

"I remain skeptical of some of the drilling positions, but I will give them credit that the way they crafted the drilling positions are about as careful as you might expect... from a drilling agenda. What I don't want is for the bad to be the enemy of the good.''

And The Page quotes him as saying today: "I have to accept things I don’t like,? "At some point people are going to have make some decisions– are we going to keep on arguing, or are we going to get some things done?" and “We can’t allow partisan bickering, or the desire to score political points, to get in the way of providing genuine relief to people who are struggling.?

Some news and blog headlines are calling this a "shift" or a "cave." I don't think that's quite right at this point.

But it is unquestionably a "softening" of his position -- since he is not making positive argument for drilling, but saying he would accept some loosening of the ban in exchange for something else -- and that makes my earlier characterization on the radio show inoperative.

How serious is this?

For one, I'm not terribly convinced this compromise bill is going anywhere. The Florida senators, one D and one R, are adamantly opposed. Big Oil's lobbying arm, the American Petroleum Institute is not happy with the tax provisions (and I suspect they also don't care for the requirement to only sell the oil in America and not on the global market).

And Sen. John McCain -- Mr. Super Bipartisan Maverick -- said he won't do anything that raises taxes on oil companies (of course, he just said "raises taxes" as conservatives often do to falsely imply it would affect your taxes.)

Is the compromise remotely reasonable?

Well, if the proposal to totally lift the ban on coastal drilling was silly before, because the estimated available 18 billion barrels isn't enough oil to lower prices more than a few pennies two decades from now, it's even sillier now. The southeastern area of our coastline has only a quarter of what's available off our shores. It's a quarter of a drop in the bucket, while still risking environmental damage.

Further, while $84 billion for clean energy is a start, it's only a fraction of what's needed. (The Apollo Alliance calls for $300 billion to transition to a clean energy economy in 10 years.)

On the other hand, any drilling wouldn't happen for years, while an extension of renewable energy tax credits through 2012 would happen immediately, which is quite critical for growing clean energy companies to attract private capital and avoid collapse. There would potentially be time to reinstate the coastal drilling ban after we make progress on clean energy.

What does this say about Obama?

That he's a compromiser, which is not news. It will be frustrating at times dealing with that fact, and that is also not news.

Going back to my five questions to ask when a presidential candidate does something you don't agree with, the last one is: "Is there a way to advance your view in hopes of constructively pushing your candidate without undermining your candidate?"

At this stage, there certainly is.

Obama is only opening the door to compromise because the Democratic Party and outside forces for clean energy (myself included) have collectively done a poor job countering conservative propaganda, debunking the arguments for drilling (which Obama has tried to do, but hasn't had much help) and amplifying support (which clearly exists) for policies that reduce dependence on increasingly expensive oil.

So let Obama know that there is strong support for holding the line against foolish drilling, and for a more effective energy policy. And to give Obama the requisite political cover, keep pushing the media to report the facts about drilling.

Posted by Bill Scher on Aug 2, 2008 email post email Spotlight / / You are in Radio Show
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