Monday, November 14, 2005

ANWR, Congress and Kennedy 

I'm as disappointed as anyone with the ANWR battle among Republicans in Congress, but let's review a couple of facts before we get our undies in a full twist. (Boy, the thought of that is painful!) As much as I wish we could open up exploration, it's a long-range benefit in return for short-term political costs, and in particular the attack on Mark Kennedy for trying to avoid those costs are unfair and ignore his history on the issue.

First, while Hugh fairly shouted that this is a national security issue, it's hardly one that matters in the short run. Even in the best case scenario we could not begin to use oil from ANWR until 2013. Even if we find the best case for oil in the area desired for exploration, this will reduce imports of oil from 70% without drilling to 64% in 2025 (1.2 mbd being the best estimate for the flow from ANWR.) It's very hard to sell that as a net price decline. What we are asking representatives to do is vote for something that has no tangible benefit for eight years versus the wrath of green voters now. The margins these people won with in 2004 matter only a little in an off-year election where the other side may be able to mobilize a great deal of their base against you. Taking Hugh's argument seriously about national security, this is akin to the ABM debates of the 1970s and 1980s -- yes, it's the right thing to do in the long run, but in the long run we're all dead, as Keynes said. Politicians heavily discount long-term benefits. While I disagree, the disagreement is over assessments of benefits and costs. There's wrong and then there's unreasonable and unfathomable. Saying ANWR doesn't provide enough to offset the costs seems wrong on the evidence, but it isn't a priori unreasonable.

Second, the ripping on Mark Kennedy during Hugh's show should have come after a check of the Republican Main Street Partnership's FEC records, which show no connection. Or query his committee contributions. The congressman's people were out in force Saturday at the CD6 forum, and one of their purposes was to quell this unwise assault on a chance to flip a seat. Until someone has better information about a connection between RMSP and Kennedy, erstwhile supporters like Hugh should stand down.

UPDATE: I appreciate the comments of Guy and Psycmeistr, but to them I continue to ask -- didn't we already know this about Kennedy? After all, we know the votes aren't there if ANWR was a simple up-or-down vote, otherwise why stick it in a budget bill that can't be amended from the floor? Have a full discussion of the issue and an evaluation of the costs and benefits and take it to the people. The way to get Kennedy and others to pay attention is through a promise of votes, not the withholding of campaign funds as Hewitt threatened. (I note I heard not a word about this today.)

(Footnote: When the vote on ANWR happened in 2001, Kennedy voted against exploration, but was put under great pressure from an ad campaign against him. He's been here before, done the same thing, and there wasn't a protest then, either.)

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