Obama Attempts to Explain Shift on Offshore Drilling

By MichaelJames

Aug 2, 2008 12:31pm

ABC News’ Sunlen Miller reports: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., fought back against the perception that he’s shifted away from his opposition to off-shore oil drilling by suggesting he softened his position as a compromise toward a broader energy policy.

Obama first indicated Friday in an interview with the Palm Beach Post that he would be willing to compromise on his opposition to off-shore drilling, and would consider expanding the current drilling boundaries — if it was part of a plan to make the country more energy independent by developing more fuel-efficient cars and alternative energy sources.

Today, at a press availability in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Obama said that his comments weren’t a shift.

“This wasn’t really a new position. What I’m saying is that we can’t drill our way out of the problem,” he told reporters. “And if we can come up with a genuine bi-partisan compromise in which I have to accept some things I don’t like, or the Democrats have to accept some things that they don’t like, in exchange for actually moving us in the direction of energy independence, then that is something I am open to.”

On Friday, the bi-partisan “Gang of 10” group of senators unveiled a compromise energy plan that would include opening areas of the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic to drilling –- in addition to raising taxes on major oil companies. Part of the plan also includes oil exploration 50 miles off of Florida’s coastline –- a state that is an important battleground in the general election.

Obama said that while he hasn’t seen the Gang of 10’s final legislation, he understood it has some aggressive elements that could move America in the direction of energy independence.

“I think is a positive step, so there are a whole bunch of good things that have been proposed by this bi-partisan group," Obama said. "I remain skeptical of some of the drilling provisions, but I will give them credit that the way they crafted the drilling positions are about as careful and responsible as you might expect for a drilling agenda.”

Obama said while he is opening the door to a compromise, he will not support a plan that suggests drilling is the answer to the nation’s energy problems. 

Obama’s softening of  his position will likely play into the hands of the McCain campaign, which has been framing Obama as “Dr.  No” on energy issues.

Today, the McCain campaign suggested Obama still has farther to move on the issue of offshore drilling.

“It’s clear that members of both parties are following John McCain’s leadership toward an ‘all of the above’ approach on energy that includes nuclear, alternative energy and off shore drilling," said Tucker Bounds, a McCain spokesman. "We hope Barack Obama will realize that his ongoing opposition to John McCain’s realistic energy solutions and additional offshore drilling is wrong.”

Obama said that in the end the shift on offshore drilling shouldn’t be a political one.

“What I’m interested [in], ultimately, is going to be governing," he said. "And what that means is that we’re going to try to get things done. … At some point, people are going to have to make decisions: Are we going to keep on arguing or are we going to get some things done?”

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