Obama decides to drill soon, drill here and there

You know, in about 15 years or so, Barack Obama might actually come up with an energy policy that increases energy and grows the economy.  After five months of escalating political heat, Obama finally decided that we could drill our way out of our problems — or at least his problems:

Facing continued public unhappiness over gas prices, President Barack Obama is directing his administration to ramp up U.S. oil production by extending existing leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska’s coast and holding more frequent lease sales in a federal petroleum reserve in Alaska.

Obama said Saturday that the measures “make good sense” and will help reduce U.S. consumption of imported oil in the long term. But he acknowledged anew that they won’t help to immediately bring down gasoline prices topping $4 a gallon in many parts of the country.

Is this leadership?  No, it’s more like covering one’s party mascot:

His announcement followed passage in the Republican-controlled House of three bills — including two this week — that would expand and speed up offshore oil and gas drilling. Republicans say the bills are aimed at easing gasoline costs, but they also acknowledge that won’t be immediate.

The White House had announced its opposition to all three bills, which are unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, saying the measures would undercut safety reviews and open environmentally sensitive areas to new drilling.

Wow — sounds bad, huh?  Why would anyone listen to Republican policies that do all that?

But Obama is adopting some of the bills’ provisions.

In fact, most of this action deals with extensions for existing leases, rather than new drilling.  Instead of approving extension requests individually, Obama will issue blanket one-year extensions in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.  The lease sales for the Gulf that Obama announced were supposed to take place last year.  They’re not new leases.  Obama did pledge to hold annual lease sales in Alaska’s North Slope area, where they had been ad hoc in the past, which is the only hint of new expansion in his remarks.

This isn’t leadership.  It’s a threadbare attempt at triangulation that doesn’t add much new capacity at all, nor does it speed up the process of exploration and extraction.  The White House will drag its heels on expansion of American production as long as possible; this announcement just buys Obama some time and a respite from the political fallout of high gas prices.  Still, the fact that Obama had to protect himself in this manner shows how politically damaging his refusal to expand American production has become, and how damaging it will continue to be.