A day has passed, and I’m no closer to understanding the Administration’s offshore drilling strategy. Well, actually, I’m a bit closer.

The rewards remain quite obscure to me. It infuriates the environmental coalition who will actually be indispensable with selling a comprehensive bill and mounting mass support for it if one ever comes forward. The White House seems so touchy about offering it that they are highlighting other parts of what they announced yesterday. They seem fully aware of the fact that opening the coasts to potential environmental hazards has almost no reward attached to it; the most fertile tract offered in this plan has at most 6 months’ worth of the US supply of oil in it, and the Virginia tracts have closer to 6 days. It doesn’t even seem cost-competitive to LOOK for oil this scarce.

I am aware of the notion that this is an effort to draw in skeptical Senators – most of them Democrats – on a comprehensive energy and climate bill that otherwise would just die. The best spin on that comes from scientist Stephen Darksyde:

I mentioned yesterday in my Examiner column that the consensus of energy experts I’ve spoken with is that emerging alternative energy technology, combined with existing traditional power plants and conservation, can indeed meet our future needs. But the same people stress that even in the best case renewable energy scenarios, there is a gap in capacity that will still have to be filled, most likely by one of three reliable sources: coal, oil and gas, or nuclear. Each has significant, and yet distinctly different, advantages and disadvantages. Coal is chock full of a host of toxins before we inhale them, oil is a huge security headache and both oil and gas are pollutants and emit GHGs, and rightly or wrongly nuclear just flat out scares people. Both coal and nuclear (Along with solar and wind) don’t do anything for cars and trucks unless electric vehicles become far more widespread. What to do? [...]

In the tragic aftermath of 9-11 we missed a huge opportunity, unwillingly thrust upon us at incalculable cost, to radically change our ways. Now we finally have a President who seems willing to make the hard choices the last President shied away from. Some of us are rightly concerned about the offshore component. But if the political price tag for getting a bunch of new programs we as progressive support — and we as a nation sorely need — is to allow energy companies to explore some offshore oil and gas reserves, is that a price we might be willing to consider paying, at least for now?

Except I have no idea if this is the political price tag. It seems to alienate as many people as it supports. Even those swing Senators who could get on a climate bill want to go further than this, and add the North Atlantic and the Pacific to the drilling possibilities. It’s possible that the White House’s bid just kicked off the opening of the coastline, with more on the way. But at that point, you lose even more coastal Senators in areas which do not support drilling in any way.

I think the Occam’s Razor conclusion is that Obama has no problem allowing very rich interests to go on with dirty energy production. He has made investments in solar and wind (and offshore wind may be a part of this exploration), sure, but he also flipped on drilling way back in August 2008, in the middle of the Presidential campaign. This announcement merely codifies that wish for an “all-of-the-above” energy solution. He has always supported clean coal, and corn-based ethanol fuels, and nuclear energy plants like Exelon; nothing new there. In fact, those elements often get MORE attention in Obama speeches than solar and wind. In short, he IS the midwestern coal-and-ethanol-state swing vote that he’s been courting. So why wouldn’t he go ahead and add drilling to the list as well?