Here are the two main political implications of the Obama administration's announcement that it will expand offshore drilling:
A compromise with Conservadems While Republicans have been particularly loud in their support for vastly expanded offshore drilling, this move is likely designed to win over mainly Democratic votes, not Republicans. A quick survey of the areas that have been opened to offshore drilling reveals this:
Toss in Alaska (Begich), which was also partially opened, and you are looking at Louisiana Landrieu, Florida (Bill Nelson), Virginia (Warner and Webb, North Carolina (Hagan) and South Carolina (Graham). As the links embedded in their names show, they are all proponents of offshore drilling. The coastal states with Senators opposed to offshore drilling will not receive any new drilling. Graham is the only Republican.
This is, effectively, home state pork for Conservadem Senators who are viewed as winnable votes on the energy bill. Five of the original fifteen Conservadems are listed above (Webb and Graham are not Conservadems). Of course, since the new offshore drilling policy will operate through the executive branch, there is no guarantee at all that the Obama administration will actually get an energy bill out of this deal. Nonetheless, and leaving aside the political efficacy of this ploy, it is clearly a political move designed to make a bill more viable.
Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates between right and left, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place. Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again.
Rather than trying to placate green groups, President Obama is playing up how he is charting a unifying course of moderation in opposition to those groups. Much like Blanche Lincoln, he protrays himself as an independent, nonpartisan voice standing up to environmental extremists on behalf of his constiuents.
As I wrote quite often during the health care fight, progressive groups can get as mad as they like when the Obama administration abandons them with policy moves like these. However, since President Obama is more popular among the membership of those groups then even the leaders of those groups, it is difficult for them to effectively fight back. Politics is more a popularity contest than it is a battle of ideas or wills, and right now President Obama is easily the most popular person in politics among the Democratic and progressive rank and file. The members of Congress, who can effectively push back against moves like these are those who are more popular amonng their constituents than President Obama. The same goes for the green groups: their ideals, and their leaders, need to be more popular among their memberships than President Obama in order to effectively push back.
There are not many organizations like that right now (maybe Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth), and there might not be any progressive members of Congress for who whom that is true. Until that changes, the Obama administration will continue to be able to make right-wing deals with Conservadems, and then do some hippie punching afterward, indefinitely.