Anatomy of a bad decision: Obama’s embrace of offshore drilling was made by limiting scientific and environmental input

Two of President Obama’s top environmental advisers told a panel investigating the cause of the BP oil spill Wednesday that they did not provide the environmental and scientific basis for the administration’s new five-year plan expanding oil and gas drilling off the nation’s coasts.

I was not a fan of Obama’s decision to allow drilling and/or exploration off much of the U.S. coast on energy, environmental or political grounds (see EIA: New offshore drilling will lower gas prices in 2030 a few pennies a gallon, Bush official Dan Bartlett admits authorizing offshore oil drilling will be unlikely to win over any GOP votes: “Republicans have made a calculation that cooperating with this administration at this time is not necessary for them to pick up seats”).

Ultimately, the decision proved catastrophic from a positioning and messaging perspective — making it one of White House’s biggest blunders to date.  It put Obama on the side of drilling right before the biggest oil disaster in U.S. history.

Now it’s clear that this poor decision looked amateurish because it was.  The administration simply didn’t do his homework.  The decision was made without full scientific and environmental input — by design.  The Washington Independent explains:

In making its decision to expand offshore drilling earlier this year (before the massive oil spill in the Gulf), the Obama administration did not work closely with two key federal bodies responsible for environmental oversight.

At the second meeting of the National Oil Spill Commission today, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley said the council was not “specifically asked for anything” in the run-up to President Obama’s decision. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco said the agency was consulted in making the decision, but “was not in a position” to offer its approval of the final plan.

The revelation appears to be in stark contrast to March remarks by President Obama announcing the new offshore drilling plan, which would have allowed drilling along the lower part of the East coast and in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. Obama said he had worked with members of his administration for more than a year to develop the plan. But the remarks of Sutley and Lubchenco indicate that the administration did not work closely with at least two key federal bodies responsible for the protection of the environment and the oceans “” issues that have taken on new importance in the aftermath of the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

In addition, Lubchenco said NOAA was not asked specifically if it had the resources to oversee the environmental reviews associated with additional drilling. In fact, Lubchenco said earlier at the meeting, “We are seriously hampered by lack of resources to do many of these [reviews], especially under the time frames that are required.” Under the law, there is a 30-day time frame for certain environmental reviews.

The Washington Post reports Lubchenco said, “I would say that the concerns that we raised were listened to and that many of them were incorporated into the final decision, but not all of them.”  It adds:

The chairmen of the commission told reporters that Wednesday’s testimony surprised and disappointed them.

Graham said that he would have expected NOAA and the Council on Environmental Quality to be in on the discussions, adding that he was surprised by testimony that they were not.

“I’m disappointed that the Council on Environmental Quality particularly would not have been included,” said Reilly, who led the EPA during the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.

The drilling decision was a poor one.  Now we know one of the reasons why.

9 Responses to Anatomy of a bad decision: Obama’s embrace of offshore drilling was made by limiting scientific and environmental input

  1. Prokaryotes says:

    I thought of this as a diplomatic approach and in return the industries would agree to climate legislation. As we now learned, the decision made not a lot of sense – when you compare the influx of action against environmental protection.

  2. john atcheson says:

    This decision was a strictly political one, and a bad one at that. It fits the emerging Obama pattern: Begin with a principle, compromise it away right out of the gate in hopes of what? winning the middle? Certainly not Republicans.

    But he had the middle — and instead of veering right on every issue he could have won them by bringing the middle to him.

    This wouldn’t only be good politics, it’s what the country desperately needs.

    The completely discredited narrative of the right survives only because no one has the courage to confront the faint ghost of Ronnie Reagan and his band of fools.

    Climate change is here; the uber free market folly has failed; the small government mantra has brought ruin; the endless wars with Oceania or Afghanistan or Iraq (still got more then 50,000 troops there); you name it and the right wing whacko policy has failed.

    So what is it he’s compromising with? Failure?

    I’m done with Obama. We need a leader, not a political calculator.

  3. Peter Mizla says:

    Perhaps the President needs to ‘find out’ if he is a transformational President who wants to begin the change to renewable energy, or a caretaker of the past-who ‘tinkers’ with renewable ideas.

    That activist leader who wants to break free of the special interest fossil fuel titans is in the future-it now seems.

  4. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    It seems that the president has yet to realize that he’ll become a disgraced failure that is not granted a second term if he persists with the delusion of promoting the profitability of a ‘green’ economy while ignoring its fundamental requirements. (Just the ongoing disillusionment of democratic activists will ensure this).

    If he’s able to recognize that distinction, he needs, urgently, to signal the fact unequivocally, by relieving Emmanuel & Axelrod of the positions where they have so obviously failed to serve in advancing the administration’s reach.

    Waiting to fire them until after November would be to extend the sway of their deficient advice through a potentially critical period, and then to appear to externalize blame in the aftermath.

    He needs far more savvy forward-looking advice now, and he should set out to find it without delay. With fresh and energetic strategy, the November elections are very far from lost.



  5. Dan B says:

    I’m in agreement with the assessment that Emmanuel and Axelrod have much to do with Obama’s perceived inadequacy.

    A simple observation of the dire circumstances of most construction workers in this country shines some light. As real estate, both residential and commercial, continue to drop in value it’s clear that most construction jobs will be in rejuvenating existing stock. There’s an opportunity here to include efficiency and clean energy in that renovation. Emmanuel and Axelrod continue to miss the opportunity to connect good jobs to 21st Century energy and 21st Century efficiency. They seem to believe that “Green” is for fuzzy environmentalists outside the realm of robust economics and restoring jobs for the average person.

    Their only narrative is: “Small victories.” Blah.

  6. turt1es says:

    Obama used the only tools he had to try to gain any votes he could. It was a fine risk. He had no other options. Stop putting the blame on those who are working with essentially no tools. Those who are to blame are those who are voting on party lines. That we can’t count on a single conservative vote is the real problem.

  7. Raul M. says:

    It is amazing that the coast guard washed
    the ships for those who had to travel
    in the gulf of pollution. So many ways
    where the partnership between the gov.
    and the oil industry is deemed a success.

  8. Raul M. says:

    But, how does having too much faith in the
    oil industry doing what it says it would and
    should do mitigate the damages when it turn
    out to be a disaster.
    Or prevent the oil industry from doing what it
    promised to do.
    Also, if the oil industry is found to have broken
    faith by saying it is and will be one thing, when
    it is so obviously the other extreme, shouldn’t
    people be able to notice?
    I don’t think I prevented the oil industry from
    living up to it’s promises even if I didn’t believe
    the promises anyway.

  9. Mark says:

    john atcheson ,

    thanks, very eloquently stated.

    sums it up for me perfectly.