President Obama Allows Offshore Drilling to Move Forward. What Could He Have Up His Sleeve?

Since the inauguration, President Obama has taken several steps heartily endorsed by progressives, and has earned high marks for doing so.  Kathy’s great post summarizing his first full day in office, followed by what he did in the next two days, provide solid evidence that he is, as we all hoped, a man of action.  These are things he promised to do during the campaign, and he has done them.

A Reuters article reveals what I see as a first, true indication of just how calculating (in a good sense) he can be.

President Obama has indicated that the planned leases for offshore drilling can move forward into a 60-day comment period, at the end of which his administration can formalize the plans, change them, or scrap them.  It seems like a setback for environmentalists and progressives, and perhaps it is.  But a comment period does not a regulation make, and leases don’t necessarily lead to actual drilling.

Instead of looking at this in terms of who wins and who loses — President Obama claims to be, after all, post-partisan — let’s examine in from a strategic perspective.  Consider these potential benefits:

First, the 60-day comment period will provide an opportunity for people to weigh in on an issue where there are some strong (but not always rational) feelings.  If played properly, it will serve as a good model of what President Obama pledged to do in terms of being transparent, open to input, and to use that input in determining which is the most prudent and pragmatic course of action.  Judging from the comments section in a DailyKos post, there will be lots of impassioned input provided on this issue, and it’s likely to have high visibility.

Second, letting the leasing proposal move forward to a public comment period looks like a real concession to the “Drill, baby, drill” contingent, which includes most of the Republicans in Congress.  It can be used as leverage for moving forward President Obama’s agenda to reduce dependence on oil by developing and exploiting alternative sources of energy.  Allowing offshore drilling is a clear example of bipartisanship that can pay huge dividends down the road.

Third, much of the impetus for pushing offshore drilling has probably dissipated now that oil prices are down quite a bit, so there may be only lackluster enthusiasm for leases anyway.  Whatever money these leases generate for the government, of course, is a bonus.

Finally, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised (although I would be very impressed) if President Obama is figuring that even if his administration moves forward with allowing the leases to be sold, the actual drilling may never take place.  As his energy agenda gets implemented, which is on a generally quicker time schedule, the demand for any oil that could be obtained through offshore drilling would diminish even further.  Why, it’s quite possible that it simply wouldn’t be worth the effort.  That’s pragmatism, for you!

Now, I could easily be reading too much into this whole thing.  Just as Kyle likes to parse and analyze the campaign horserace, I love examining the complexity of a leader’s decision-making.  I think I’m going to have a lot of fun watching President Obama!

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