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Why Obama Can't Stop Flip-Flopping on Energy Policy

President Obama -- feeling the political pressure from rising gas prices and poor approval rating -- turned to an old friend for a little relief this weekend: Pre-BP disaster Obama. Like a superhero who stops the school bus right before it plunges into the sea, pre-BP disaster Obama came to the rescue and announced bold new -- I mean old -- plans to increase domestic oil production.

In a weekly radio and Internet address, Obama said the government will:

Where have we heard this before? Oh right, in 2010. In his State of the Union address, pre-BP disaster Obama talked about "making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development." Two months later, Obama proposed opening the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling.

We all know what happened next. BP's damaged Macondo well spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for several months before it was capped. Obama called for a moratorium on exploratory offshore drilling; the Interior Department's scandal-ridden Minerals and Management Service was reorganized into three separate agencies in hopes of ending the cozy relationship between oil companies and overseers; and new, stricter safety regulations were created.

Obama's schizoid energy policy
To be clear, Obama's change of heart post-spill is understandable. No one expected him to continue with his pro-drilling stance while oil gushed into the Gulf. The problem is his schizoid energy policy that tries to please everyone and achieves nothing.

Take gas prices, for example. People are pissed. Consumers want someone's head, preferably an exec from a major oil company. The GOP believes more domestic drilling will solve the problem. Some misguided lawmakers think releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve will provide relief. While Democrats -- clearly pandering to irate consumers and Tea Partiers -- have proposed eliminating $21 billion tax deductions for Big Oil and using that money to reduce the deficit. By the way, a far better plan would have been a proposal to take the $2 billion in annual tax savings and put it towards clean energy research and development.

Enter the flip
How did Obama respond to this barrage of ideas? Right after he acknowledged "there are no quick fixes to the problem," Obama floated plans clearly aimed at appeasing the peanut gallery and buying him some time. Domestic drilling? Check. Fraud and market manipulation? Yup. Big oil tax deductions? Yup, again.

Obama's strategy didn't even work. The oil and gas industry responded with a golfers' clap and then pushed for more concessions including approval of the Canadian oil sands pipeline.

Domestic drilling may be part of our long-term energy future. But for folks who believe it is The Answer, it's worth keeping this tidbit in mind: the U.S. consumes nearly 25 percent of the world's daily oil production and has 2 percent of its proven reserves.

Photo from Flickr user JD Hancock, CC 2.0

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