The Stump

Deepwater Drilling Ban No Clear Political Plus For Obama

oil industry workers

Oil workers in June 2010 listen to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal criticize the Obama Administration's moratorium on deepwater drilling. Gregory Bull/AP Photo hide caption

itoggle caption Gregory Bull/AP Photo

Being a president whose disapproval ratings top his approval numbers, President Obama could use a clear win somewhere.

But it doesn't appear it will come, at least immediately, from the lifting of his administration's moratorium on deepwater oil drilling imposed in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon accident.

The decision to lift the moratorium appeared to fit neatly into the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" law of politics and life.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat, for instance, refuses to lift the hold she placed on Obama's nomination of Jack Lew to be his new director of the Office of Management and Budget.

She's blocked the nomination to exert pressure on the administration to lift the ban. And now that the president has lifted the moratorium, she she still has her reasons for thwarting the nomination, she said.

"I am not going to release my hold on Jack Lew.  Instead, I will take this time to look closely at how (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management)   is handling the issuing of permits and whether or not drilling activity in both shallow and deep water is resuming.  When Congress reconvenes for the lame duck session next month, I will have had several weeks to evaluate if today’s lifting of the moratorium is actually putting people back to work.”

For Landrieu, who isn't up for re-election until 2014 and whose state got more Republican after the dislocation of many in New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina, it likely won't hurt her politically to continue her face off against the Obama Administration.

The administration was heavily criticized in the Gulf region for hurting jobs there with the moratorium and Landrieu was definitely not going to leave any doubts about whose side she was on.

Not unexpectedly, the administration drew criticism from Republicans even on a day when it gave them ostensibly what they wanted.

From Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal:

“The Administration is certainly long overdue in undoing their ‘arbitrary and capricious’ deepwater drilling moratorium. We are glad they are beginning to reverse this job-killing policy.

“While this is good news, if there is one thing we have learned from this Administration it is that the devil is always in the details. For example, while there is no official moratorium on shallow water drilling operations, severe bottlenecks in the federal permit review process have resulted in a de facto moratorium for shallow water drilling. Indeed, since the beginning of June, only 12 new permits have been issued for new shallow water wells, compared to the pre-deepwater-moratorium average of 10 to 14 shallow water permits issued a month.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who some have suggested as a possible 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said:

"Having opposed the imposition of the moratorium, I am glad it has been lifted.  I look forward to receiving the details."

But the reaction of erstwhile Republican, now independent chief executive of Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist, indicated the political cross currents that existed even between Gulf state governors.

“As long as Gulf Coast residents and businesses are struggling with the claims process and being made whole, the drilling moratorium should not be lifted. Without a thorough investigation of what exactly caused the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, any drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is a job killer for Florida, not a job creator.

Crist's reaction echoed that of environmentalists. Natural allies of the Democrat in the White House, environmentalists weren't thrilled with the lifting of the moratorium.

Natural Resources Defense Council executive director Peter Lehner, said in a statement:

“Today’s actions are premature. The difficult clean-up process in the Gulf has taught us prevention is key. To ensure a disaster like this never happens again, we must know what caused it in the first place.  We’re still waiting for that answer and until we get it – the moratorium should remain in place.

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