Editorial: The Paris Hilton compromise

In her response to John McCain’s use of her name and image to attack Barack Obama in a recent TV ad, Paris Hilton proposed an interesting energy policy: combine new offshore oil drilling with serious investment in clean energy alternatives like plug-in hybrids and wind and solar power.

Apparently when Paris talks, people listen. A remarkably similar bipartisan bill is making its way through the Senate right now.

McCain opposes it. The bill reportedly includes a measure to remove tax breaks for Big Oil, to which McCain has stated specific opposition.

Obama expressed support for the compromise bill saying, “I don’t want the perfect to become the enemy of the good.” In other words, win some new substantive commitments to eco-friendly energy alternatives via the compromise rather than be seen as doing nothing with an all-or-nothing stance.

McCain is Big Oil’s candidate. Oil companies have given him millions of dollars over the years to block alternative energy subsidies and to push for more tax breaks for companies like Exxon Mobil, which raked in a record $12 billion in the last quarter alone on record high gas prices.

But virtually no one believes that new leases for offshore oil drilling will reduce oil and gas prices in the foreseeable future.

Even the Bush administration-controlled Energy Department reported in 2007 that new drilling wouldn’t reach peak production for two decades.

According to official estimates, the oil on all U.S. land, including under offshore waters, totals only 3 percent of the world’s potential supply. Meanwhile the U.S. consumes about one-fourth of the world’s oil.

Thus, any new oil from offshore sources would be a drop in the bucket with no impact on prices.

Further, the environmental dangers of offshore drilling have coastline states like Florida, North Carolina and New Jersey up in arms about the possible impact of spills and other disasters on their tourism-dependent economies, besides the immense social costs from such likely disasters. The Coast Guard recently reported, for example, that millions of gallons of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina have yet to be fully mopped up.

If the compromise is a way to blunt the Republicans’ hypocritical hype on oil prices and also get alternative energy funding, that’s understandable, but new drilling will not lower gas prices or free us from price gouging of Big Oil.