Republican presidential candidate John McCain this week reversed his position and drew environmentalists’ wrath when he came out in favor of lifting the federal ban on off-shore oil drilling. McCain apparently realizes he needs motorists’ votes more than environmentalists’ endorsements.
Better late than never.
Rising gasoline prices have focused voters’ attention. A poll last October in the San Francisco bay area found 69 percent willing to pay an additional 10-cent gasoline tax to “fight global warming.” This week only 37 percent liked the idea.
The federal government imposing costly greenhouse gas restrictions was the latest Capitol Hill fad until rising fuel prices gave the public a peek at the sacrifice global warming alarmists demand of them. The Senate last week snuffed out the Climate Security Act once its tremendous costs were publicized, including an estimated additional $1.40 per gallon of gasoline.
Only a decade ago motorists filled up for 99 cents a gallon, a quaint amount compared to eastern New Mexico’s current average of nearly $4. Almost 80 percent of those surveyed by the Washington Post-ABC poll said high gasoline prices now pose a financial hardship, establishing it for the first time in recent memory as a top concern among voters.
Rising gasoline prices have economic domino effects. “The Los Angeles Times” reports the prices of far-flung homes have declined more than houses close to major work centers, and attributes the difference to rising commuting costs. Detroit is acknowledging rising fuel prices by reducing production of gas-guzzling S.U.V.s and large trucks, while the California Chamber of Commerce trumpets four-day work weeks to reduce commutes.
In May, Gallup showed 57 percent of Americans favored “allowing drilling in U.S. coastal and wilderness areas now off limits,” while only 20 percent blamed increasing gasoline prices on Big Oil.
“There are areas off our coasts that should be open to exploration and exploitation and I hope we can take the first step by lifting the moratoria,” McCain said. He said there are untapped U.S. oil reserves of at least 21 billion barrels, most of which can’t be extracted because of federal restrictions. The Congressional Research Service estimated 86 billion barrels of oil plus 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are available on the Outer Continental Shelf alone, 85 percent of it off-limits and 97 percent undeveloped.
That doesn’t include 10.4 billion barrels estimated in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which would be the largest producing oil field in the Northern Hemisphere – were it not for a federal drilling ban.
We hope that even if it’s only a crass appeal for votes, McCain rethinks his opposition to drilling in ANWR, and also pledges to overcome Democrat opposition to leasing interior federal lands that may contain 1.8 trillion barrels of oil in shale rock, which a RAND study estimates could be enough to meet U.S. energy needs for centuries.
The U.S. realistically can’t become energy independent, but it can become energy self-sufficient by drilling closer to home, reviving shunned technologies such as nuclear power, and by encouraging private companies to seek new technologies and approaches in support of that goal.