Call it the Election Day dog that didn’t bark – or, possibly, the oiled bird that didn’t fly. The BP oil spill had virtually no impact at the polls on Nov. 2. The fact that the biggest ecological scare of the summer was nearly forgotten by fall says a lot about where the American people stand on energy and environmental issues.
Less than five months after President Obama gave a prime-time TV address hyping the Deepwater Horizon spill as “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced,” there is scant evidence that the spill affected even a single congressional race. This was not for lack of trying. In the first few months after the April 20 spill, many congressional Democrats joined environmental activists and some in the media in blaming pro-drilling Republicans for their complicity in the so-called Gulf disaster.
For a while, it was fashionable to ridicule those who had chanted “Drill, baby, drill” during the 2008 race. Opponents of domestic drilling thought they had a defining issue heading into the midterms.
Now the “Drill, baby, drill” crowd is back – and they’ll be returning to Washington with quite a few new allies.
Ironically, it was not the spill itself but Mr. Obama’s overreaction to it in the form of a job-killing moratorium on offshore drilling that really angered voters in Louisiana and other impacted states. The only reason the Obamatorium didn’t hurt Democratic candidates along the Gulf was that they were just as vocal as Republicans in their opposition to it.
So what does all of this tell us about voters? For one thing, it shows that they are getting wise to environmentalist alarmism and exaggeration. Just as the drumbeat of doom-and-gloom predictions about global warming didn’t generate public support for “cap-and-trade,” neither did overblown claims of oil-spill-induced ecological devastation create a backlash against offshore drilling. And given the still-struggling economy and stubbornly high unemployment, the electorate is not going to accept costly solutions to overstated threats.
The drilling ban, like cap-and-trade, threatens to raise energy costs and destroy jobs. The public might support the imposition of new safety measures in order to reduce the likelihood of a repeat spill, but only within the context of a policy that allows domestic drilling. Any attempt to parlay the spill into a drilling ban is a clear non-starter with the American people. Recent revelations that Obama officials doctored the first official spill report to claim falsely that a team of experts endorsed its moratorium demonstrates that the public’s opposition is justified.
Has the Obama administration gotten the message? Not yet. While admitting that cap-and-trade legislation is dead, the president coyly describes it as “just one way of skinning the cat” and adds that he will “be looking for other means to address this problem,” including Environmental Protection Agency regulations to achieve the same ends. Similarly, Mr. Obama announced with great fanfare – three weeks before the elections – that he is lifting the unpopular offshore moratorium. But this official change has made no practical difference, as the administration continues to bottle up all new drilling with bureaucratic red tape and indefinite delays.
In other words, the administration has been pursuing a backdoor strategy to push the same energy and environmental policies that the public rejected when the administration and Congress tried to push them through the front door. The incoming Congress has been elected to stop this from happening. It should do so.