October 10, 2008

Steve Padilla

Wrong Baby Wrong!

You would have thought we had come as they used to say, “A long way, baby”, but apparently not. When listening to the rhetoric in this presidential election year about how to achieve energy independence, I shake my head in disbelief. What are worse are the chants of the crowds in enthusiastic agreement. As one of Hitler’s top lieutenants Joseph Goebbels famously said, “The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it.” Yep, and if you throw in high prices at the pump, and a recession, then suddenly presto -“it” becomes gospel. The “it” this year is made up of renewed support for allowing off shore oil drilling, and the screams of crowds chanting “Drill Baby Drill” no doubt in the false belief doing so would help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, lower gas prices and ease our energy woes. Right. You can also put out a three alarm structure fire with a garden hose and by stomping your feet and blowing hard. Drilling is a convenient, expensive, ineffective and unwarranted distraction.

President Bush recently lifted the executive ban on off shore drilling and urged congress to do the same. Unfortunately, congress did just that last month, with certain restrictions. Senator McCain and his Alaskan running mate have made the mantra traditional in their speeches and rallies, while Senator Obama, being sure not to be on the wrong side of current public opinion, makes sure to mention that he too supports some renewed drilling. But it’s a gimmick, designed to make us think somebody somewhere is doing something to address the problem. It doesn’t even come close. But it does work great in an election year, and as a means for some, to blame environmentalists for hard energy times. The time, effort and cost involved in new drilling is stupid at best, and a waste of money and effort which produces minimal benefit which in no way outweighs the serious environmental risks associated with it. This foolishness is most importantly a waste of precious time and resources that should be directed to real long-term solutions.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Association, lifting the drilling moratoriums will have no short-term impact on fuel prices, and “negligible” impacts by the year 2030. The U.S. has only about 3% of petroleum capacity world wide, and makes up over 23% of world demand. In addition, lifting the bans is not necessary to increase domestic production within existing off shore federal and state leases and will do nothing to speed up short-term production. Instead of investing in intelligent policies focused on developing clean energy production such as wind and solar, biomass and biofuel, and dealing with efficiency standards, our nation’s current energy policy was drafted in secret with the help of big oil. Our primary focuses has been to give and try to give away large numbers of acres of public resources for expanded drilling, none of which insulated us from the current energy crisis.

We have ignored the facts for too long as well. We don’t need to open up coastlines for drilling in order to “bridge” anything. By demanding better fuel efficiency standards by encouraging car manufacturers to use technology that already exists, we could improve standards to 40 miles per gallon. If this were the average for vehicles in our country today, it would save more than 20 billion barrels of oil, more capacity than exists in all protected off shore areas combined. Long term, a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Electric Power Research Institute in 2007 predicted that plug-in hybrids could reduce U.S. oil consumption by 4 million barrels a day by the middle of the century, the equivalent of taking 82 million cars off the road.

The issue isn’t just how we reduce costs, or reduce dependence on foreign oil, but whether we will have the brains and the will to make long term permanent solutions available to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels altogether, and stop the poisoning of our planet. The picture is not encouraging. A report last month released by international scientists revealed that man-made carbon dioxide emissions rose 3% world wide instead of declining. This rise was above the worst-case scenario predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sadly, the United States was behind only China –a developing country – in leading the world in per capita greenhouse gas output, rising 2% in 2007. Many developed and industrialized nations reduced output: Denmark by 8%, the United Kingdom and Germany by 3%, France and Australia by 2%. If they can, we can.

Next time you hear the chanting, and the simple gimmick quick solutions, speak up. It’s not “Drill Baby Drill.” It’s “Wrong Baby”, just wrong.

Padilla served as Chula Vista Mayor from 2002-06 and on the California Coastal Commission from 2005-07. He is President/CEO of Aquarius Group, Inc. and can be contacted at: spadilla@aquariusgroup.org.

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