Cassidy: Obama Should Take Long View on Spill

This piece appears at POLITICO.com today…

When I teach medical residents, I tell them that in an emergency, they should first check their own pulse.

The suggestion is equally valuable for policymakers.

Like frantic doctors in the emergency room, frantic politicians are prone to overreaction and error. It is imperative for leaders to check their own pulses first in times of national distress.

Rather than responding with reason and precision, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has provoked overreaction and error from Washington. Seized by emotion and alarm, the administration has reacted in knee-jerk fashion with an unnecessary and counterproductive moratorium on deepwater Outer Continental Shelf energy production.

In fairness, the Obama administration is in a politically difficult situation. Americans, particularly Louisianans, are outraged and heartbroken that oil continues pouring from the site of the spill weeks after it broke open. Lacking the equipment or expertise needed to take control of an oil leak 5,000 feet under the sea, the federal government appears impotent.

In response, President Barack Obama’s emotion is described with a new adjective almost daily. He is “frustrated,” then “furious.” Lately, he is “enraged.”

Instead of bounding between emotions in reaction to media coverage, the president should take the long view. He should recognize that the verdict on his administration’s handling of this disaster will be rendered in six months or six years — not on the 6 o’clock news.

The president should take his own pulse.

Emotion — not evidence — has led the president to this moratorium. It may give him a feel-good, get-tough headline today, but it will cause real suffering for those most affected by the spill.

When the president said he was looking for someone’s “ass to kick,” I hope he didn’t intend to aim his foot at the 320,000 Louisianans who owe their livelihoods to the energy economy.

An offshore moratorium isn’t punishment for executives at multinational corporations that can move their rigs elsewhere. But it is harsh punishment for the welders, pipe fitters, roustabouts and workers in the range of service and support industries connected to energy production in the Gulf Coast.

Petrochemical production is a cash-flow intensive industry. Because leases cost $500,000 per day in some cases, operators cannot afford for their rigs to idle in the Gulf of Mexico for months on end.

Even a short-term moratorium could send these rigs — and related jobs — to Western Africa or Brazil. Once gone, there’s no guarantee they’ll come back anytime soon.

With one of every 14 Louisiana residents directly or indirectly employed through petrochemical production, the president’s moratorium is expected to cost the state’s workers $330 million in lost wages every month.

The Louisiana Department of Economic Development estimates that this will eliminate more than 10,000 jobs in the near term and more than 20,000 within 18 months.

The combination of these jobs losses with the destruction of Louisiana’s fishing and coastal tourism industries would surely result in massive unemployment.

The moratorium also undermines U.S. energy security.

A moratorium would not end U.S. dependence on oil and gas; it would just make the United States more dependent on other nations’ oil and gas. Every gallon not produced at home is a gallon imported from abroad, often from OPEC nations.

The president’s moratorium actually increases the likelihood that more oil would spill into the ocean. Statistically, even accounting for the Deepwater Horizon spill, far more oil is spilled from oil tankers than from oil rigs.

In his weekly address, the president promised to “stand with the people of the Gulf Coast until they are made whole.”

Mr. President, a good place to start is by reversing your policy of eliminating Gulf Coast jobs, undermining U.S. energy security and increasing the risk of more oil spills.

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