Following days of criticism over a lax federal response to the oil spill in the Gulf, President Barack Obama will announce on Thursday a six-month extension of the moratorium on permits to drill new deepwater wells as well as additional prohibitions on planned exploration off the coasts of Alaska and Virginia.
White House aides call it a serious effort to at least momentarily curb a practice that has been exposed as more risky and uncertain than previously recognized.
But for liberals in the Congress, it's a drop in the bucket.
Hours before the president was set to unveil his new proposals, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced legislation that goes far beyond temporary bans on additional offshore drilling permits. The Vermont Independent-Socialist is calling for the reinstatement of bans that expired in 2008, which would fully prohibit permits for "exploration, development, or production of oil or natural gas" on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts as well as sections of the Gulf. In short, the bill would have the effect of essentially forcing the country to go cold turkey on offshore oil consumption.
"[Obama] wants a moratorium for six months. We want a permanent ban," Sanders said, in a call announcing his legislation. "I think the president is probably seriously regretting the fact that he lifted the moratorium... he is right to re-impose the moratorium as a time out."
To compensate for the drop in domestic energy supplies, Sanders attaches to his bill a provision calling for the increase in fuel-mileage standards for automobiles -- with the goal set at an ambitious 55 miles per gallon by 2030
"[T]he limited benefits of continued offshore drilling are outweighed by the substantial risks of offshore drilling; there are cleaner and safer ways to reduce the price of gasoline than offshore drilling, such as strong fuel economy standards," he writes.
The proposal is, legislatively, a relative pipe dream. While the appetite for offshore drilling has diminished in recent weeks (in the process endangering the prospects of comprehensive energy reform) a straight-out prohibition of offshore drilling -- combined, no less with an increase in fuel mileage standards -- doesn't seem likely to have 60 willing supporters in the Senate.
More than anything else, Sanders's effort reflects the intense frustration of progressives over the inability to use the Gulf oil spill to spotlight the need for far-reaching energy legislation. It is an illustration of just how limited the policy discussion has been in the past few weeks -- in which the debate has centered on how to make offshore drilling safer as much as whether there should be additional drilling at all.
"If there is a silver lining, it is that I hope we have received a wake-up call that now is the time to transfer our energy system," Sanders said.
HERE IS THE BILL: