Petro-oligarchs play presidential candidates —again

We don’t doubt that Big Oil has its money on the Republicans and Mitt Romney when push comes to shove. But we noted back in 2008 that the reigning petro-oligarchs were deftly playing both sides in the presidential race. The nature of the game is that no matter who gets in, the petro-oligarchs win. But a part of the game is that Romney gets to bait Obama as a Green Stalin for suggesting that some remnants of federal oversight over the oil industry be retained—which only causes Obama to capitulate yet further. In terms of actual policy on oil and energy, the difference between the two parties has been narrowing almost from the moment Obama took office, until today it is vanishingly small. From AP, Aug. 23:

Romney rolls out energy plan dominated by offshore drilling
HOBBS, N.M. — Seeking to reset his economic message, Republican Mitt Romney pledged Thursday to create 3 million jobs and more than $1 trillion in revenue by ramping up offshore oil drilling and giving states more control over energy production on federal land.

Romney, reviving a long-elusive goal pushed by presidents and presidential candidates for decades, said his plans would make the U.S., along with Canada and Mexico, energy independent by 2020.

“This is not some pie in the sky kind of thing,” Romney told voters in Hobbs, the heart of New Mexico’s oil and gas industry. “This is a real achievable objective.”

The cornerstone of Romney’s plan is opening up more areas for offshore oil drilling, including in the mid-Atlantic, where it is currently banned. He also wants to give states the power to establish all forms of energy production on federal lands, a significant shift in current policy that could face strong opposition in Congress.

His proposals make little mention of renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar, backed by President Barack Obama. Romney has deep ties to big oil and raised more than $7 million from industry executives during a campaign fundraiser in Texas earlier this week.

All we can say is “deja vu all over again,” because we remember reading two years ago that Barack Obama had just announced similar plans. From the New York Times, March 31, 2010:

Obama to Open Offshore Areas to Oil Drilling for First Time
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is proposing to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, officials said Tuesday.

The proposal — a compromise that will please oil companies and domestic drilling advocates but anger some residents of affected states and many environmental organizations — would end a longstanding moratorium on oil exploration along the East Coast from the northern tip of Delaware to the central coast of Florida, covering 167 million acres of ocean.

Under the plan, the coastline from New Jersey northward would remain closed to all oil and gas activity. So would the Pacific Coast, from Mexico to the Canadian border.

The environmentally sensitive Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska would be protected and no drilling would be allowed under the plan, officials said. But large tracts in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska — nearly 130 million acres — would be eligible for exploration and drilling after extensive studies.

The Center for Biological Diversity has been fighting back in the courts as these plans have been put in place. They said in a press release this June 28:

Obama Plan Expands Risky Offshore Drilling in Arctic, Gulf of Mexico
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced plans today to dramatically expand offshore oil drilling, including in the Arctic and the heart of critical habitat for polar bears. The plan will also expand high-risk, ultra-deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, which is still suffering the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil.

The five-year plan schedules 15 lease sales in six offshore areas, including the Arctic’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas, where an oil spill in remote areas would be nearly impossible to clean up, and portions of the Gulf of Mexico near areas where development has so far been off-limits. The plan encourages further reliance on oil and threatens species already stressed by the impacts of climate change.

“President Obama is doubling down on risky offshore oil development when he should be investing in clean energy,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This plan is a one-two punch to vulnerable wildlife like polar bears. They’re already being killed off by climate change, and now they’re facing dangerous, dirty drilling right where they live.”

The Obama plan represents a long-term commitment to offshore oil drilling at a time when Arctic monitoring stations have reported carbon dioxide levels in the region have reached 400 parts per million — a milestone that underscores the risks of greenhouse gas pollution. Leading climate scientists say CO2 concentrations should be reduced to 350 ppm to avoid catastrophic, irreversible impacts.

The Chukchi and Beaufort lease sales take place in critical habitat for polar bears, which were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2008. Scientific studies show that, because of the rapid melting of their Arctic habitat, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears, including all those in Alaska, are likely to be extinct within the next 40 years unless greenhouse gas pollution is significantly reduced.

“Polar bears are already teetering on the brink of extinction. Policies that worsen climate change and raise the risk of disastrous oil spills in their habitat will push them over the edge,” said Sakashita.

Hey, fuck the polar bears, it’s all about my SUV, right? We noted earlier this year that Obama also seeks to open Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve to oil drilling, with potentially grave implications for the future of the Arctic generally.

Note that this talk of “energy independence” comes up every four years like clockwork—as it has since 1976, the first presidential election year after the first big “Energy Crisis.” Kerry and Bush both invoked it in 2004. Has there actually been any progress since then? As a matter of fact, yes, and most of it during Obama’s term in office—although arguably due to factors other than Obama’s policies. According the US Energy Information Administration, the US currently gets 55% of its oil from domestic sources, with the rest coming from Canada, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria and Mexico (top five sources). The page boasts:

Reliance on Petroleum Imports has Declined
U.S. dependence on imported oil has declined since peaking in 2005. This trend is the result of a variety of factors including a decline in consumption and shifts in supply patterns. The economic downturn after the financial crisis of 2008, improvements in efficiency, changes in consumer behavior and patterns of economic growth, all contributed to the decline in petroleum consumption. At the same time, increased use of domestic biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel), and strong gains in domestic production of crude oil and natural gas plant liquids expanded domestic supplies and reduced the need for imports.

Well, we aren’t too crazy about “biofuels” or “natural gas plant liquids” (read: more fracking), but we’re all about that “decline in petroleum consumption.” We also note that the economic downturn has led to a decline in highway fatalities. There is a lesson to be learned here, but whether our civilization will heed it in time to ward off planetary cataclysm seems a dubious proposition at best. We will say that Obama at least portrays his betrayals as “compromises,” which necessarily implies   a ceding of some legitimacy to the notion of saving the biosphere from total collapse (hypocrisy being the homage that vice pays to virtue and all that). Whereas, as ABC News notes, “Mitt Romney Energy Plan Evokes ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’ Slogan.” So an Obama White House may provide at least a little more resistance on the downward spiral towards global ecological collapse. But, clearly, the petro-oligarchs win either way, and giving Obama a blank check is also a part of that spiraling dynamic.

We never said we had any easy answers…

  1. US road deaths in 2012 jump

    From the Detroit News, Feb. 19:

    US traffic deaths last year rose about 5 percent to about 36,200, according to a preliminary estimate released Monday by a nonprofit group that tracks auto safety.

    The increase would be the first time in eight years that road deaths increased, and coincides with a jump in the number of miles Americans drove in 2012.

    The National Safety Council also said crash injuries requiring medical attention rose by an estimated 5 percent since 2011 to a total of 3.9 million.

    Americans have been driving more miles since December 2011, which is a factor in the upswing in road deaths.

    Just when it looked like the economic downturn was doing some good. Now, how many people in the US were killed by terrorism last year? Oh that’s right, none. 

    So can anyone explain to me why we don’t have a Global War on Cars?