Krugman on How McCain Hopes to Con the Public on Energy Policy

Some of the AB readers think that McCain has changed his mind on offshore drilling because of high gasoline prices. Paul Krugman exposes why this must be nonsense and offers a more plausible view:

Blaming environmentalists for high energy prices, never mind the evidence, has been a hallmark of the Bush administration … And the administration has spent the last eight years trying to convince Congress that the key to America’s energy security is opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling — even though estimates from the Energy Information Administration suggest that drilling in the refuge would make very little difference to the energy outlook, and the oil companies themselves aren’t especially interested in punching holes in the tundra. But it still comes as a surprise and a disappointment to see John McCain joining that unfortunate tradition … As many reports have noted, the McCain/Bush policy on offshore drilling doesn’t make sense as a response to $4-a-gallon gas: the White House’s own Energy Information Administration says that exploiting the outer shelf wouldn’t yield noticeable amounts of oil until the 2020s, and even at peak production its impact on oil prices would be “insignificant.” But what I haven’t seen emphasized is the broader picture: Mr. McCain has now aligned himself with an administration that, even aside from its blame-the-environmental-movement tendencies, has established an extensive track record as the gang that couldn’t think straight about energy policy … So why would Mr. McCain associate himself with these characters? The answer, presumably, is that it’s a cynical political calculation. I’m reasonably sure that Mr. McCain’s advisers realize that offshore drilling would do nothing for current gas prices. But they may believe that the public can be conned. A Rasmussen poll taken before Mr. McCain’s announcement suggests that the public favors expanded offshore drilling, and believes (wrongly) that this would lower gasoline prices. And Mr. McCain may also hope to shore up his still fragile relations with the Republican base. As anyone who has read what’s in his inbox after publishing an article on oil prices can testify, there are many people on the right who believe that all our energy problems have been caused by sanctimonious tree-huggers. Mr. McCain has just thrown that constituency some red meat.

Taking a poll – shoring up the rightwing base? Makes sense to me. A response to high gasoline prices? Please – no one who has read the EIA reports we have mentioned would believe the latter.

Update: Another NYTimes oped is also worth reading:

It was almost inevitable that a combination of $4-a-gallon gas, public anxiety and politicians eager to win votes or repair legacies would produce political pandering on an epic scale. So it has, the latest instance being President Bush’s decision to ask Congress to end the federal ban on offshore oil and gas drilling along much of America’s continental shelf. This is worse than a dumb idea. It is cruelly misleading. It will make only a modest difference, at best, to prices at the pump, and even then the benefits will be years away. It greatly exaggerates America’s leverage over world oil prices. It is based on dubious statistics. It diverts the public from the tough decisions that need to be made about conservation. There is no doubt that a lot of people have been discomfited and genuinely hurt by $4-a-gallon gas. But their suffering will not be relieved by drilling in restricted areas off the coasts of New Jersey or Virginia or California. The Energy Information Administration says that even if both coasts were opened, prices would not begin to drop until 2030. The only real beneficiaries will be the oil companies that are trying to lock up every last acre of public land before their friends in power — Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney — exit the political stage. The whole scheme is based on a series of fictions that range from the egregious to the merely annoying. Democratic majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, noted the worst of these on Wednesday: That a country that consumes one-quarter of the world’s oil supply but owns only 3 percent of its reserves can drill its way out of any problem — whether it be high prices at the pump or dependence on oil exported by unstable countries in Persian Gulf. This fiction has been resisted by Barack Obama but foolishly embraced by John McCain, who seemed to be making some sense on energy questions until he jumped aboard the lift-the-ban bandwagon on Tuesday. A lesser fiction, perpetrated by the oil companies and, to some extent, by misleading government figures, is that huge deposits of oil and gas on federal land have been closed off and industry has had one hand tied behind its back by environmentalists, Democrats and the offshore protections in place for 25 years. The numbers suggest otherwise. Of the 36 billion barrels of oil believed to lie on federal land, mainly in the Rocky Mountain West and Alaska, almost two-thirds are accessible or will be after various land-use and environmental reviews. And of the 89 billion barrels of recoverable oil believed to lie offshore, the federal Mineral Management Service says fourth-fifths is open to industry, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaskan waters.