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What Paris could teach Palin, and McCain, about drilling

Paris Hilton has a better energy policy than Sarah Palin. (A quick disclaimer: this is not a gender-motivated comparison, McCain’s camp brought up the Paris analogy first with Obama last summer.)

In the era of $4 gasoline, nearly every politician has consented to more drilling legislation, but what makes Palin’s ideas problematic: drilling is often touted out of context of any larger plan to a more renewable energy future.

Palin pays lip service to renewables, but she mostly talks about drilling, both offshore along the Outer Continental Shelf (the OCS) and in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR), as the decisive point in the resolution of our energy crisis.

“If we don’t move now to enact an energy policy that includes more oil and gas production from domestic sources, including ANWR and the federal OCS, we may look back someday and realize that we failed to perceive a critical crossroad in the history of this nation.”

Drilling is Palin’s idea of change. Instead of using her spotlight to discuss the bigger picture of a long-term need to transition to more renewable sources, in her convention speech her priorities were- in this order- for more pipelines, more nuclear plants, more jobs with clean coal and finally… to “move forward on solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative sources.”

Paris’ hybrid plan

Paris Hilton, on the other hand, understands the need to place drilling in the context of a bigger strategy for our nation’s long-term energy use (perhaps it’s Paris’ advisers- or those behind the parody video that appeared on the Will Farrell/Judd Apatow-backed site funnyordie.com- who deserve the credit, but in politics it’s the personality who gets the credit).

Last August, after being portrayed in a McCain commercial as an air-headed celebrity, Hilton fought back with her own campaign video featuring her energy policy. Sitting poolside, she outlined just how drilling could fit into the bigger picture of a renewable future.

“We could do limited offshore drilling with strict environmental oversight, while creating tax incentives to get Detroit making hybrid and electric cars. That way the offshore drilling carries us until new technologies kick in which will then create new jobs and energy independence.”

Don’t let the leopard-print bikini fool you. What Paris gets, and Palin seems to overlook, is that drilling is simply a concession to help ease public fears about our transition to alternative energies.

Perhaps it is noteworthy to add that Paris has acknowledged global warming with her “not hot” label (i.e. it’s a problem) while Palin is still discovering her “worldview” on this particular point (last year she said “I’m not an Al Gore, doom-and-gloom environmentalist blaming the changes in our climate on human activity”, but in her interview with ABC’s Charles Gibson she waffled over just what the meaning of the word “human” is).

McCain: drilling could deliver oil “within a matter of months”

McCain has acknowledged the threat of global warming and, at one time, he opposed offshore drilling, but as the tone of the country changed – 74% of Americans now support offshore drilling – so did he. And more problematic, he quickly accepted drilling as a cure-all for our high gas prices… even “within a matter of months”.

There are some instances within a matter of months, they could be getting additional oil. In some cases, it would be a matter of a year. In some cases, it could take longer than that depending on the location and whether or not you use existing rigs or you have to install new rigs. But there is abundant resources in the view of the people who are in the business that could be exploited in a matter of months.”

The reality is, according to most experts, that drilling legislation now won’t have an effect for a decade and that effect will be minuscule- most experts argue it will be pennies per gallon- (see graph for a visual), but McCain and the GOP have continued to feed voter hopes that drilling is an answer.

Typewriters, baby, typewriters

When “drill, baby, drill” became the rallying cry at the Republican National Convention, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argued it’s up to politicians to help their public kick their oil habit, not feed it… for the good of the country.

Why would Republicans, the party of business, want to focus our country on breathing life into a 19th-century technology — fossil fuels — rather than giving birth to a 21st-century technology — renewable energy? As I have said before, it reminds me of someone who, on the eve of the I.T. revolution — on the eve of PCs and the Internet — is pounding the table for America to make more I.B.M. typewriters and carbon paper. ‘Typewriters, baby, typewriters.'”

Obama, drilling & geo-green

Obama hasn’t lost sight of this. When he reversed his opposition to offshore drilling this August, it was a political sacrifice to achieve something bigger. Offshore drilling, for Obama, would be agreed to only as a compromise in order to get enough Congressional votes to pass a more comprehensive plan to encourage fuel-efficient vehicles and to develop renewables.

If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage — I don’t want to be so rigid that we can’t get something done.”

Obama’s compromise is what Friedman calls part of a strategy for “geo-green” and only in this context, he argues, can drilling be acceptable. “The truth is, I’m not against drilling in ANWR. I mean, look, I don’t want to be drilling in the wilderness, in the cathedrals of the environment. But if ANWR were part of a total strategy of geo-green, I can accept that, because it says we’re not going to have to do the next ANWR, because we have a total strategy.”

What the possible head of US oil and energy policy doesn’t understand

Palin- McCain’s pick for US oil and energy policy chief, as well as VP-, meanwhile, easily discusses ANWR and offshore drilling as an answer to our country’s energy crisis, often citing her residency in Alaska as the basis of her expertise. But Friedman, and others, argue that many of these domestic sources of energy might not even reach our consumers.

“Realistically, ANWR would be better for China than the United States — it’s much easier to get Alaskan crude to China than America. You’d have to take that oil from Alaska down through Panama Canal up to Houston, where the majority of refineries are. This whole notion that it would be a boon to America is absurd.”

Those who truly understand America’s energy crisis know what would truly be a boon to America is help in transitioning to 21st energy sources. Yes, in this era of panic over the price at the pump, politicians may have to agree to some drilling in order to forge a compromise for renewables funding. But the end goal is to move our country to energy sources of the future: for a more stable economy and so we don’t “have to do the next ANWR”.

Footnote: I’m not the only one who considers Paris’ plan more than parody. Texan congressman Michael Burgess actually pushed for the “Paris Hilton plan” at a news conference and tried to claim that the GOP’s “No More Excuses Energy Act” was in keeping with her plan. But as CNN pointed out at the time, the Republican proposal includes offshore drilling, but no tax credits to encourage new automobile technology.