SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Republicans Hop on Petroleum Platform
Republican politicians seem to be reading from the same polls these days.
They may also be walking into a trap.
If you haven't noticed, Republican political candidates have jumped aboard the offshore oil drilling ship. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole was first to climb on. Charlotte Mayor and GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory followed. Then, Republican state senators sent a letter to the state's congressional delegation urging them to join the party.
It represented quite a shift. For years, most political candidates have avoided endorsing oil drilling off the North Carolina coast.
In fact, Dole, in 2005, said ending dependence on foreign oil shouldn't involve "ignoring the wishes and economic needs of the majority of the people of North Carolina, and many other coastal states, who oppose this exploration."
Now, she and most of the rest of the Republican crowd have decided that President Bush's proposal to allow oil drilling 45 miles off the East Coast is a good thing.
So what's changed?
Well, obviously a big change is the cost of a gallon of gasoline. But apparently the Republican political class has also seen some polling data indicating that voter anger about what they're paying at the pump makes offshore drilling more palatable. GOP politicians also seem to see it as a way to deflect blame to the Democrats when it comes to high energy costs.
But there's plenty of reason to think it's a flawed strategy, as politics and policy.
As political strategy, Republican candidates should understand that opening up the North Carolina coast and other Eastern seaboard states to oil drilling is going go get plenty of vetting over the next few months, whether on cable news shows or editorial pages.
As it's discussed, people's opinions may shift. Polls may change.
The reason that the polls may change is that, as a policy issue, offshore drilling is a loser.
Sure, some economists argue otherwise. They make valid points. Just the decision to begin opening up coastlines to drilling would produce some downward pressure on the cost of oil, making speculators rethink their bets. And the law of supply and demand suggests that, once those oil wells are pumping in a decade, the increasing supply will create more downward pressure on prices.
But that extra supply won't be enough to counter the upward pricing pressure created by rising demand in China and India. That's the conclusion of a report from the Bush administration's own Department of Energy.
Its 2008 International Energy Outlook report concludes that, in a best-case scenario, increased drilling in the United States and elsewhere would drive prices down somewhat by 2015, but not significantly by 2030. Under a worst-case scenario, a 40-percent increase in worldwide oil production still leads to $186 a barrel oil by 2030. And here's the kicker: The worst-case scenario is far more likely than the best-case scenario.
The projections don't exactly make offshore oil drilling look like sound political strategy or sound energy policy.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at email@example.com.
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