Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Real Bankruptcy Bill

No, not the credit card industry wish list that recently passed in Congress. I’m talking about Bush’s energy bill, or the lack thereof. You’ve probably heard how the GOP added a provision for drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in the most recent budget in order to get it through Congress without debate or the potential for filibuster, but this is but the tip of the iceberg of more than four years of an utterly bankrupt national energy policy under George Bush.

After 9/11 it came painfully obvious that our high oil consumption is fueling some of the most despotic regimes in the world who actively seek to harm us and our interests. But instead of embarking on a serious program of energy conservation and the development of alternative energy technologies, Bush called for more drilling and little else (with tens of billions in subsidies to the very energy companies that are currently reaping record profits), even though the increased extraction would do almost nothing to decrease oil dependency and prices, and absolutely nothing to diminish our consumption.

In the intervening years we have also invaded the country with the second biggest oil reserves in the world, and although the principle motivation was the WMD threat, if Iraq had not been so oil-rich it is almost inconceivable to think we would have mounted such a military campaign. Amazingly, during testimony in support of drilling in ANWR, some GOP senators in fact pointed out that increased domestic drilling was necessary to honor the men and women who are fighting in Iraq, thereby implicitly admitting that securing Iraq’s oil supply (and that of the greater Middle East) was part of the reason why we invaded.

It would be one thing if the opening of ANWR to drilling was accompanied by a serious effort at conservation (say, an increase in the automobile fuel efficiency standards or a tax on cars with low gas mileage), because at least then it would appear to be a good-faith effort on the part of the GOP to seriously address energy policy. It would also have forced environmentalists and Democrats into an open and honest debate on the trade-offs that they might or might not be willing to make to pursue such a policy. This would’ve been good for the country and helped to promote rational discourse.

No such luck, this is what Senator Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska had to say about opening ANWR to drilling: “It's as important to me as the first step Armstrong took when he stepped off on the moon.” Mind-boggling; you can’t make up stuff like this.

In a press conference Bush talked about the jobs drilling would create and how it would help expand the economy, even though the impact will be minimal, far off in the future, and the job creation from the development of alternative energy technologies would be much greater. Nowhere did he mention the potential long-term ecological damage to one of the few large tracts of pristine wildlife in the world, and nowhere did he hint at a more comprehensive energy strategy. Combined with record deficits, a plummeting dollar, and soaring energy prices, one has to wonder what the long-term repercussions of such a bankrupt energy policy are going to be for the country. Stay tuned as the GOP yet again tries to push its energy company giveaway bill through Congress.

*Thomas Friedman has a great piece along these lines published on Sunday in the NYT.

J.S.

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