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Obama Goes Forward on Clean Cars, Backward on Offshore Drilling

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President Obama traveled to Andrews Air Force Base today to talk about the need to strengthen America's energy security. I agreed with his emphasis on the need to invest in clean energy. I welcomed his mention of the new fuel efficiency standards for cars that will be formally announced tomorrow.

But I do not support his decision to open vast areas of our oceans to offshore drilling. Protecting coastal communities was one of the first things I worked on as an environmentalist, and for 30 years I have fought for sound ocean policies. Expanding offshore drilling will take us backward, not forward.

Spending time and money on dirty, 19th century fuels is a move in the wrong direction, especially since President Obama said today:

"Drilling alone cannot come close to meeting our long-term energy needs, and that for the safe of the planet and our energy independence, we need to begin the transition to cleaner fuels now."

The new fuel economy standards President Obama is establishing are the kind of solution we need right now--the kind that will get us moving into the 21st century.

As Obama pointed out, these new standards will not only save drivers money, but will also save 1.8 billion barrels of oil. That is the equivalent of taking 58 million cars off the road for a year.

If we want to boost our domestic oil supply, we should focus on enhanced oil recovery from existing fields, a process that can supply more than 10 times the amount of oil that could be produced by drilling in our oceans over the same period.

Turning back the clock and returning to more offshore drilling, meanwhile, will do little to relieve America's oil addiction.

According to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, drilling in America's previously closed ocean areas "would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production...before 2030." Even then, "because oil prices are determined on the international market ...any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant."

Offshore drilling would yield little cost or supply benefit, and yet it would pose serious long-term danger to our beaches and marine life. It also threatens commercial fishing, ocean-related tourism, and recreation industries that contributed more than $128 billion to the nation's economy in 2004 and supported more than 2 million jobs.

As our economy falters and climate change continues unchecked, we should be preserving the jobs we have and investing in the clean energy technologies, which studies show, generate three times as many jobs as if the same amount were invested in the oil and gas industry.

If the administration proceeds with offshore drilling, NRDC will fight to make sure the strongest environmental standards are put in place. Those include making science-based assessments to identify fragile areas that must be set off-limits, placing no-drill buffers around parks and other sensitive areas, and requiring the use of the best available technology.

I agree with President Obama that we need to transition to cleaner fuels now. And I applaud the U.S. military's efforts to confront the twin challenges of oil addiction and climate change.

But sinking more drill pads into our oceans is not the answer. Not when better running cars and more efficient use of existing oil fields can transition us to the 21st century without harming marine life or marine jobs.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.

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