President Obama has unveiled a plan to expand the U.S. coastal areas available for offshore oil drilling. The plan may come as a surprise to environmentalist supporters of Obama, and will be especially surprising to fans of Sarah Palin, who saw Palin's 2008 chant "drill baby drill" widely mocked by the left. The plan would open the Atlantic coast from Delaware to Florida, parts of the Gulf of Mexico, and a large area north of Alaska. Here are the challenges and payoffs of the offshore drilling plan.

  • Why He's Doing It  The New York Times' John Broder explains, "The proposal is intended to reduce dependence on oil imports, generate revenue from the sale of offshore leases and help win political support for comprehensive energy and climate legislation." Democrats "have already made significant concessions on coal and nuclear power to try to win votes from Republicans and moderate Democrats. The new plan now grants one of the biggest items on the oil industry’s wish list — access to vast areas of the Outer Continental Shelf for drilling."
  • Seems Unlikely to Win Cap and Trade  Mother Jones's Kevin Drum is puzzled. Why would Obama enact conservatives' two greatest energy wishes without the guarantee of anything in return? "Does he seriously think this will 'help win political support for comprehensive energy and climate legislation'? Wouldn't he be better off holding this stuff in reserve and negotiating it away in return for actual support, not just hoped-for support? What am I missing here?"
  • ...Unless The Deal Is Already Done  The Washington Independent's Aaron Wiener speculates, "If Obama’s goal here is to win support for a climate bill, wouldn’t he have waited to use this leverage until negotiations in the Senate had actually begun in earnest? Or has he already struck a deal with oil-state moderates like Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)?"
  • Reaction to Rising Global Demand  24/7 Wall St.'s Douglas McIntyre explains, "The race for new deposits has heated up, especially since China’s oil needs have increased sharply. China has made deals to fund drilling into huge reserves off of Brazil and part of Africa ... Enabling American producers to drill in their own back yards may be critical to keep the cost of exploration by US companies low."
  • This Is Not Environmental Policy  Econo-blogger Mark Thoma scoffs, "Increasing the risks to the environment in an attempt to save the environment seems like a less than optimal strategy."
  • Shifting Environmental Politics  NBC News' Chuck Todd muses, "Amazing the politics of offshore oil drilling has shifted so dramatically that a Dem POTUS could do this w/little fear of enviro retribution." Todd also passes along a tweet suggesting that "all will be forgiven" if Obama passes cap and trade. "Agree?" he asks.