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George Will's ANWR fixation

George Will's column on gas prices (at Jewish World Review or ClownHall or WaPo --pick your poison) quotes a few sentences from Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) discussing Saudi Arabia's ability to lower gas prices by increasing oil output; Will responds by pretending that drilling in Alaska's ANWR would solve our energy problems. Although it is true that it is primarily Democrats who blocked ANWR drilling, Bush's lack of a comprehensive national energy policy isn't their fault--it's his.

In the end, Will does nothing but prove that political pandering to cash-strapped voters exists on both sides of the aisle. Schumer's full remarks from 13 May are available from the Government Printing Office (here, here, and here), and contain more than the pandering to consumers highlighted by Will:

...right now, it is Big Oil and OPEC that are benefitting and American families are losing. It is unfortunate we are at this point. Eight years of poor stewardship over our Nation's energy policy has left us with [no] alternatives. And my Republican colleagues have blocked every attempt at real energy reform that would help alleviate the rising energy prices in this country.

In the 110th Congress alone, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have blocked four different attempts by Democrats to extend the alternative tax provisions, and not only for a year or two but many.

On June 21 of last year, the extension of energy credits received 57 votes; on December 7, it received 53 votes; on December 13, it received 59 votes; and on February 6, 58 votes.

Each time, Republicans put up roadblocks requiring 60 votes in order to pass the bill. Each time the overwhelming majority of Democrats voted for the bill, the overwhelming majority of Republicans voted against.

President Bush opposed the bills because each would have ended tax breaks for big oil, as if they needed more tax breaks given their record profitability.

Will's attempt to make Democratic actions (protecting the environment and conserving domestic oil supplies) equivalent to Republican ones (drilling everywhere and protecting oil-industry profits) is ludicrous at best and dishonest at worst. Schumer wanted to use arms sales to Saudi Arabia as a bargaining chip for increased oil production, something that Bush preferred to simply beg for--and, of course, Bush failed. (Dubya's manly hand-holding with King Abdullah didn't force the Saudis to "open up the spigot" after all, did it?) For some (partisan?) reason, George Will didn't complain about Bush's failure. Instead, the bow-tied buffoon blathered on about increasing oil exploration, making this claim:

Just probing four miles below the Gulf's floor costs $100 million. Congress's response to such expenditures is to propose increasing the oil companies' tax burdens.

Anyone with the barest knowledge of rhetoric will recognize this as a non sequitur; anyone with even minimal understanding of partisan posturing will see through Will's sham. Unable to stop digging when he's in a hole, Will closes his piece with the sarcastic remark: "Let it not be said that America has no energy policy." It is precisely in the area of energy policy where Americans should take a few moments to refresh their memory of Jimmy Carter's 1979 "crisis of confidence" speech (mistakenly called "malaise" by conservatives):

In little more than two decades we've gone from a position of energy independence to one in which almost half the oil we use comes from foreign countries, at prices that are going through the roof. Our excessive dependence on OPEC has already taken a tremendous toll on our economy and our people. This is the direct cause of the long lines which have made millions of you spend aggravating hours waiting for gasoline. It's a cause of the increased inflation and unemployment that we now face. This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our nation. The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.

Carter remarked that "There is simply no way to avoid sacrifice," but there was a way to delay the sacrifice, to create a greater burden on future generations by postponing the necessary actions and making the adjustment to a high-priced-oil future both more prolonged and more painful. That was the hidden cost of taking the Reagan-Bush-Bush detour into energy-policy denial. Some people got to enjoy a scenic ride, but as a nation we are now further from our destination, with a clueless joyrider behind the wheel and a fuel gauge approaching "E."

The conservative supply-side mentality assumes that everything would be just fine if we would just drill every drop of crude and pour it all--along with increasingly large amounts of our agricultural output--into the tanks of their gas-guzzling SUVs. Great idea, guys...but what happens tomorrow when oil is $200/barrel and gas is $10/gallon, while we've wasted still more years on this short-sighted waste-it-all-now mindset with no concern for the future?

Liberals like Carter tend to take the longer-term view, realizing that we need to address demand for oil as much (or more than) its supply. Increased efficiency, energy-conscious urban planning, and more research into alternative and renewable energy sources would also gas prices to drop as much or more than drilling everywhere--but because demand would be drastically lower. With a finite and diminishing resource like oil, sticking more derricks into the sand--along with many Republicans' heads--is not a long-term solution.

Quote of the Day:

"That's what happened to Jimmy Carter--he asked Americans to take responsibility for their profligate ways, and promptly lost to Ronald Reagan, who told them once again that they could do anything they wanted." (p. 125, Jane Smiley, "The Unteachable Ignorance of the Red States," Slate, 4 November 2004)

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