Obama's State of the Union: Drill, Baby, Drill?

Reading between the lines of the president's address

In last night’s State of the Union Address, President Obama gave the discussion of climate change and renewable energy a much needed boost, but he did so at the expense of something near and dear to us here at The Active Times: our national parks and protected places.

When Obama promised to “keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits,” he was talking, among other regulatory changes, about rules that govern private drilling in places like Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida, home of the highly endangered Florida panther.

As of March, 2012, there were 668 non-federal oil and gas drilling operations in 12 areas administered by the National Parks Service; according to the Center for American Progress, an additional 30 protected areas may open for drilling in the future, including Grand Teton and Everglades national parks.

The question, to drill or not to drill on public lands and in public waters, was until recently a political football, from the debate over opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling in the 2000 Bush-Gore contest, to Sarah Palin’s 2008 popularization of the slogan “Drill, baby, drill!”

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill even seemed to push this question to the fore.

But the controversy took a new turn in the second 2012 presidential debate, when Obama was attacked by Mitt Romney for reducing the number of drilling permits, only to respond, “Not true, Governor Romney.” The terms of debate shifted away from whether or not protected lands like ANWR ought to be on the table at all, to which candidate could increase domestic fuel production the fastest.

Obama further glided over this issue in his annual address by bringing it up and then changing the subject:

“In fact,” Obama said, “much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.”

While the goal to reduce fossil fuel consumption is laudable, our wild, ecologically vital, lands seemed to have a weak advocate in the President last night, signaling that he may no longer be the same man who opposed drilling in ANWR as a candidate in 2008.

Still, the proposed trust offers some hope for national parks according to Christy Goldfuss, director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress.  “We would like to work with the administration to identify portions of the ‘Energy Trust Fund’ that would be used to repair the damage caused by oil and gas development on public lands,” Goldfuss told the Active Times.