Answering questions posed by the media during an election campaign is like shouting down a well. Responses never seem to sink in. The same questions are asked over and over.
Question: Won’t McCain’s plan to increase offshore drilling lower gas prices soon?
Answer: No. The Energy Department’s own Energy Information Administration admits offshore drilling will affect gas prices only many years from now, and even then would have a negligible effect on prices.
Question: Why is that?
Answer: It takes years to get oil out of the ground, then refined and into fuel we can use. Also, don’t forget that oil is a global market, so any additional oil American companies pump out of the ground merely adds to global supplies. This may slow the inevitable rise in global prices (as global demand exceeds global supply), but it won’t do much of anything for us here in the US. We take the environmental risk; we share the tiny benefits with the rest of the world. The only long-term answer to our energy problem is to reduce our dependence on oil.
Question: How do we do that?
Answer: Invest in new, non-carbon energy alternatives like wind, solar, and biomass. Encourage the development of high-mileage cars. That’s Obama’s plan. McCain has repeatedly voted against such investments, as well as higher fuel economy standards for cars.
Question: But that will take years. What about now?
Answer: Tap the oil company’s ballooning extra profits and return them to American consumers. Exxon-Mobile earned $12 billion in the first quarter of this year, far more than it ever has before — far more than any company in history has earned. Much of that sum came directly from American consumers. They should get it back. This is what Obama is proposing .
Question: But won’t this deter oil companies from exploring for more oil?
Answer. No. They’re not using their windfall profits to explore for oil as it is. They’re using them to buy back their shares of stock in order to raise their share prices. That’s good for their shareholders and executives, not for consumers.
Question: Can we do anything else in the short term?
Answer: Tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Substitute the kind of crude oil that’s not in such demand right now for the kind that is. By doing this, we reduce speculation in oil, which is partly responsible for driving up the price.
Question: What’s wrong with McCain’s plan for a “gas-tax holiday”?
Answer: It wouldn’t affect supply. It would just increase demand. So gas prices would rise and consumers will see little difference in price at the pump. More of their money will flow to the oil companies instead of to the Highway Trust Fund, whose funding is already depleted.
Question: But hasn’t Obama flip-flopped on offshore drilling?
Answer: No. He’s always been in favor of allowing oil companies to use the leases they already have — a total of 68 million acres of American land and seabed that they haven’t yet tapped. In fact, he’s said they should use it or lose it. He just doesn’t want them to have more. (But he’s not an ideologue on this. He’s said he’ll support the current congressional compromise that allows a bit more offshore drilling for the sake of getting lots more investment in alternative carbon-free sources of energy.)
Question: So why haven’t the oil companies used the leases they already have, if the land or seabed contains oil?
Answer: The oil companies want to grab as much land and seabed as they can right now, when a Republican administration is in power. The more land and seabed they can get, the more they can dress up their balance sheets to impute untapped reserves. It’s an accounting game. But it’s a dangerous game for America because it would give oil companies access to all sorts of land and seabed that could cause serious environmental harm if tapped.
Question: What about nuclear? Isn’t that a good option?
Answer: It is if we can figure out how to store nuclear waste safely, and guard against the possibility that fissile material will fall into terrorist hands. Obama isn’t against nuclear power. He just wants to make sure we can do it safely.
Originally published at Robert Reich’s Blog and reproduced here with the author’s permission.