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After the nation’s largest offshore oil spill and a series of pipeline breaks, Republican Presidential candidates are still pushing an aggressive policy of oil and gas drilling.
This time around, the calls for more drilling sometimes run into another conservative ideal: preserving wild places for future generations. The millions of gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico last year and the crude that flowed into Montana’s Yellowstone River and Michigan’s Kalamazoo River put a spotlight on the risks of energy production.
Nearly every Republican White House contender has a plan to harness the nation’s resources to create employment by opening up vast areas to drilling.
Texas Governor Rick Perry says we are sitting “on a treasure trove of energy in this country.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has said “we’re an energy-rich nation that’s acting like an energy-poor nation.”
Since former House Speaker Newt Gingrich published his book Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less, he has touted more drilling in Alaska and the West.
Some of the ideas sound like they’re inherited directly from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Vice Presidential nominee who popularized “drill, baby, drill.” At the party’s national convention that year, Palin told the crowd, “We need American energy resources, brought to you by American ingenuity and produced by American workers.”
Gov. Perry, announcing his jobs plan in Pittsburgh, said, “The quickest way to give our economy a shot in the arm is to deploy American ingenuity to tap American energy.”
Gov. Romney thinks the country can drill off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann says she would consider drilling in the Florida Everglades. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who wants to open up the Arctic to drilling, has accused President Barack Obama of putting caribou ahead of “something good for our country and our economy.” Businessman Herman Cain believes the idea that high energy consumption and conservation are at odds is a myth.
Voters will face a choice next year on the ballot between the Republican nominee and Pres. Obama, who has taken a cautious approach to expanding oil and gas production, so cautious that critics accuse him of locking up resources. His administration gave BP the go-ahead to drill a new deepwater well in the Gulf of Mexico, the company’s first since its spill last year. The administration also has granted other companies deepwater permits.
Gov. Romney said the spill provided Pres. Obama “political cover” for policies to limit drilling. Gov. Perry called the spill “just an act of God” that could not have been prevented.
Investigations by the federal government and the companies involved blame faulty decisions for the blowout that killed eleven and sent more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
In an interview, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar defended the administration’s approach:
I don’t think we should be drilling anywhere and everywhere, and I think those who propose it are wrong. Drilling for oil in Everglades is not going to resolve the energy challenges we face as a country. What we need to do is to have a broad energy portfolio … that does include oil and gas, but it has to be done in the right places and it has to be done with the right kind of review and the right kind of regulatory oversight.
Even in the Republican Party, not everyone shares the view of the primary contenders. After Rep. Bachmann’s comment on the Everglades, Rep. Allen West (R-FL), sent her a letter arguing that “the Everglades represents one of the most cherished treasures of the United States, and should be off limits for exploration of any kind of natural energy resource.”
Conservation-minded Republicans have invoked Pres. Ronald Reagan and Sen. Barry Goldwater in arguing for the protection of natural resources.
William K. Reilly, the top environmental official under President George H.W. Bush, has warned about the risks of a spill in waters off Alaska.