John McCain on Tuesday called for lifting a 27-year federal moratorium on new offshore oil and gas drilling. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, reversing his support for the ban, said the nation needs to reduce its dependence on foreign oil and “assure affordable fuel” for Americans hurt by soaring gas prices. (Los Angeles Times) President Bush, also reversing a longheld position, wants Congress to lift the offshore drilling ban. (The New York Times)
What the commentators said
"Behold, a miracle,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. “Public anger over $4 gas” is forcing at least some politicians to take another look at failed energy policies. McCain, once an outspoken critic of offshore oil exploration, can now set himself apart on economic issues by pointing out that he has reacted to the reality of soaring pump prices, while Democrat Barack Obama is clinging to an anti-drilling energy policy that “might as well have been drafted in the 1970s.”
This is a “risky bet” for McCain, said Charles Mahtesian and David Mark in Politico. He’s “wagering that skyrocketing gas prices have finally reached a tipping point” where voters will begin shedding “strong and long-held opinions against coastal oil exploration.” If McCain turns out to be wrong, he “will have seriously damaged his chances in two key states with thousands of miles of coastline—California and Florida—and where opposition to offshore oil drilling has been unwavering.”
This “may sound like a bold move,” said Loren Steffy in the Houston Chronicle, “but it's more of a baby step.” McCain doesn’t want the federal government to allow drilling anywhere the states oppose it—so he is “essentially passing the buck to states.” If he really wanted to push for more domestic oil, he’d call for lifting the ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which the federal government could do swiftly.
In reality, McCain and Obama aren't that far apart on energy policy, said John Carey in BusinessWeek.com. Both are pushing alternatives to fossil fuels. And both want to reduce oil imports. Democrats just believe "it's easier and quicker to tame high prices by lowering demand."
“We can't ‘drill our way’ out of this problem,” said Robert Samuelson in The Washington Post, but “we can augment oil supplies and lessen price strains,” even if it takes years to tap reservoirs of domestic oil that have been placed off limits. But the important thing is to stop blaming oil companies and speculators for our problems, and “get out of denial.”