Inquirer Editorial: Isn't the goal less oil?

Maybe Sarah Palin doesn't need to be president. A vote last week suggests the House has already adopted her "drill, baby, drill" slogan as its official policy for energy independence.

The Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act was passed Thursday by a vote of 266-149 in the Republican-controlled chamber. But the Democratic Senate is unlikely to treat the measure as kindly.

Someone needs to remind the drill team that it's not enough to wean the nation off of foreign oil. Polluting, climate-changing fossil fuels must be replaced by cleaner, less expensive energy alternatives, including solar, wind, and nuclear power.

Drilling supporters blithely ignore the long-term cost benefits of alternative fuels. Instead they want to exploit Americans' rage at the high price of gasoline to push for more coastal waters to be opened up for oil exploration.

It's not a bad calculation. Certainly, pump prices that have already jumped past $4 for a gallon of regular in some areas of the country are a factor in new polls that say 67 percent of Americans now support offshore drilling.

But any driller who suggests the House bill will bring gas prices down any time soon isn't being honest. It can take 10 years between granting leases and extracting oil or gas from the ocean.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R., Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, says making the bill law would "send a strong signal to the world markets that the U.S. is serious about producing our resources."

But a stronger signal would be sent by placing more emphasis on funding the development of fuel sources that have a foot in America's future, not in its polluting past.

The House bill calls for the Virginia coast and more of the Gulf of Mexico to be available for oil leases. Waiting in the wings are bills to allow drilling off of Southern California, Alaska, and the shoreline from Maine to North Carolina.

"The biggest threat to the New Jersey coastline is Congress," says New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel. "The only oil we want to see on the beaches of New Jersey is suntan oil."

But that isn't the prevailing attitude in Gulf states affected by the BP oil rig explosion and other coastal areas where people are desperate for the jobs that more offshore oil exploration can bring. They deserve help, but their desperation shouldn't determine the course of U.S. energy policy.