Slow Down, Mr. President

As oil spills into the Gulf, maybe it's time to 'Chill, baby, chill' on offshore drilling.

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Mr. President, you have spent so much time courting--here at the street level we call it sucking up to--Republicans who will never come around to your side on major issues, including offshore drilling or a climate change initiative.

As a candidate, you were the environmentalist superstar, opposed to offshore drilling, while Sarah Palin, your opponent's pitbull was pushing for it. "Drill, baby, drill!" she shrieked on the campaign trail. She who sees Russia from her kitchen window in Alaska must certainly now be able to see the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that threatens American life and livelihood for generations. But what she cares about now is for her and Fox News and the Tea Party to spin.

Last month, at one of those Tea Party gatherings, Palin said: "We can pave the way for proven conventional sources of energy resource development with nuclear and clean coal technology and on- and offshore drilling. Because remember that energy in America is security for America. So, yeah, let's drill, baby, drill--not stall, baby, stall."

And one of her buddies at Fox, Sean Hannity, said: "We've got the oil reserves in Alaska. We've got them off the coast of Florida. We've got them off the coast in California. We've got them in the Gulf. We know where the oil is. We don't need to explore. We need to drill, baby, drill."

On March 31, the White House declared that "the administration will expand oil and gas development and exploration on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to enhance our nation's energy independence while protecting fisheries, tourism, and places off U.S. coasts that are not appropriate for development."

And then came April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing at least 11 workers before sinking and spilling thousands of barrels of oil each day since, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of people (Remember the shrimpers in Forrest Gump?) and the existence of millions of birds and fish and other wildlife along the coast.

From the White House, Mr. President, you obviously don't have the visual power that Palin claims, so you had to travel to the area Sunday for an up-close and personal eyeballing of what you have determined to be a "potentially unprecedented environmental disaster." This is what you told the nation that has been seeing the worst of this on television for a few weeks: "The oil that is still leaking from the well could seriously damage the economy and the environment of our Gulf states, and it could extend for a long time. It could jeopardize the livelihoods of thousands of Americans who call this place home. And that's why the federal government has launched and coordinated an all-hands-on-deck, relentless response to this crisis from day one."

You said, "I want to emphasize, from day one we have prepared and planned for the worst, even as we hoped for the best. And while we have prepared and reacted aggressively, I'm not going to rest--and none of the gentlemen and women who are here are going to rest--or be satisfied until the leak is stopped at the source, the oil on the Gulf is contained and cleaned up, and the people of this region are able to go back to their lives and their livelihoods."

So does your administration give the green light to start poking holes in Alaska and California and Florida while hoping nothing goes as wrong as it has gone on the Gulf Coast--or do you put a brake on this "drill, baby, drill"?

E. R. Shipp is a veteran journalist and a Pulitzer Prize winner. She also loves life at the seashore, which she shares in the summer with kids from New York City.

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