IS PRESIDENT Obama's announcement Wednesday that he is reversing U.S. policy (and his previous position) to allow oil drilling off the Atlantic and Arctic coasts and in parts of the Gulf of Mexico a flat betrayal, as many environmental groups charge?

Is it yet another case of Obama negotiating with himself, and caving in-as he did with health-care reform and financial reform?

Just a month ago, the president authorized $8 billion in loan guarantees to build nuclear reactors (A Republican favorite). Now he seems to have adopted the entire 2008 Republican energy policy - "Drill, Baby, Drill."

But in exchange for what? Not Republican votes, since an energy/climate-change bill is still being worked on by Democratic Sen. John Kerry, of Massachusetts, Republican Lindsay Graham, of South Carolina, and Independent Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut. And it certainly will be weaker than the bill passed in the House, which itself was already too weak.

This we do know: As Obama said in 2008, offshore drilling won't lower oil prices now or in the next few years. Even off the coast of Virginia, which has opened for exploration immediately, it will take years of studies and building of infrastructure before any oil is produced. Even then, there's no guarantee it will go to American gas pumps or furnaces. It could just as easily go to China. Besides, "energy independence" is an illusion. There's no way a nation that controls 2 percent of the world's oil while consuming 20 percent is going to be independent without finding other sources of energy.

And we know this: Every day we delay in passing a comprehensive energy and climate-change bill, the more expensive it becomes and the more our planet (and this country) is threatened.

An effective bill would include:

_ A price on carbon that provides an incentive to lower emissions. If, as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday, "Cap and trade is not in the lexicon anymore," why not look closer at a simpler approach proposed by Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. It's called "cap and dividend." It would establish a decreasing cap on carbon emissions, with fees for going over it, and 75 percent of the money raised would go directly back to the American people in the form of a check or bank deposit to cover rising household-energy costs.

_ Public-policy changes that provide incentives to produce clean energy.

_ Increased conservation of energy. On a state level, Pennsylvania has been a national leader in this area: By 2020, 8 percent of all energy generated in the commonwealth must come from sustainable sources. And Pennsylvanians already are seeing results from Act 129, which requires all state electric utilities to develop programs to help customers reduce energy use - by 1 percent by next spring and by 4.5 percent by 2013. One of those results: A recycling center that will pick up, recycle and pay a rebate for energy-inefficient refrigerators and air conditioners opened just last week in Hatfield.

THAT MEANS Pennsylvania's U.S. senators, Bob Casey and Arlen Specter, already know about the benefits of clean energy and conservation. We urge them to translate that knowledge into strong support for an effective climate-change bill. Politicians talk in doomsday terms about leaving deficits for our children and grand-children to pay, but isn't it worse to leave them a planet incurably diseased by the effects of climate change? *