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Drill team

"Drill team" Continued...

Issue: "Left behind," June 28, 2008

Peterson believes that no matter whether the new drilling sites produced large quantities quickly, legislation opening the door to wider domestic production would send a signal to investors that would help stabilize the market. The impact of McCain's new plan would likewise be more about positive market signs than an immediate influx of supply. His proposal would leave the decision to individual states on whether to drill.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, though generally a supporter of McCain and his middle-of-the-road style of GOP politics, is opposed to drilling off the California coast. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has also opposed such initiatives along his state's coastline, but has now changed his mind in the wake of McCain's new proposal. "It's the last thing in the world I'd like to do, but I also understand what people are paying at the pump, and I understand the drag it is on our economy," Crist said. "I hope I have a reputation of wanting to protect this environment, because I do. But I also have to balance that, as every citizen does, with what's happening to Florida families, what's happening to this economy, how dependent we are on foreign oil."

New technologies that ensure much cleaner and safer offshore drilling also help render the practice more palatable to politicians and voters alike. The environmental degradation argument has little empirical data behind it, given the performance of more than 3,000 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Not even the winds and waves of Hurricane Katrina could provoke a single incidence of leakage.

Nevertheless, in changing their positions, McCain and Crist open themselves to the dreaded charge of flip-flopping. Obama sought to make that case in pointing out McCain's strong support for the drilling moratorium during his 2000 run for the Republican presidential nomination. Florida Democratic Party spokesman Mark Bubriski likewise called attention to Crist's 2006 gubernatorial platform, which included opposition to offshore drilling. But voters are less apt to worry about such reversals when so many of them have followed the same course.

McCain still opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a position that separates him from the Bush administration and bothers many conservatives. "We call it a refuge for a reason," he said.

But such line-toeing has not spared McCain from the barbs of environmentalists, who view his newfound support for coastal drilling as kowtowing to oil companies. The Sierra Club issued a point-by-point refutation of McCain's Houston speech, and executive director Carl Pope accused the presumptive GOP nominee of advocating "more of the same reckless and outdated energy policies that President Bush and his allies in Congress have pushed for the past seven years."

The Sierra Club echoes Sen. Nelson in arguing that the United States should not continue seeking new oil supplies but instead must break its "addiction" to this cheap and efficient fuel. The environmentalist group charges further that offshore drilling constitutes a "wholesale exploitation of our coasts."

Such language seeks to attach moral connotations to the issue of energy consumption, as though using the earth's resources constitutes evil. And some Christians believe that. The Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) is among the Christian organizations calling for "green" living. EEN spokeswoman Debbie Payton told WORLD the group holds no official stance on offshore drilling, but in a 2004 issue of the network's quarterly journal, Creation Care Magazine, writer Michael Crook recounted the horror of a beachside camping trip ruined by the lights and hum of oil rigs off the Gulf Coast of Texas. He admitted harboring anger at oil moguls, but extended Christian charity in reminding readers that God "can save them."

E. Calvin Beisner, head of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, calls such moralizing "legalistic." He says the issue for evangelicals to consider is what impact energy policies have on the poor, rather than worrying about whether we are crossing some arbitrary threshold of acceptable energy use.

"Anything that forces energy prices upward forces food prices upward, which is going to hurt people who are on the bottom rung of the economic ladder," he said, recalling the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s and its devastating effects on Africa and Asia.

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