Setting the Record Straight

August 5, 2008

Off the Dime on Energy

An Energy Plan–But Just a Start

      The real presidential campaign has begun, reluctantly. This is not to suggest idiotic campaign claims are no longer going be perpetrated by both sides, but the fact we now have a discussion about a key policy issue—energy—is encouraging.
     Having said that, both candidates are pandering, one to the oil industry, the other to a fearful public.
     Republican John McCain keeps insisting on the ludicrous proposition of opening more public land to oil drilling now. House Republicans staged a protest in front of nobody but a handful of reporters and TV cameras to dramatize a demand that Congress end its just-begun vacation and return to pass the proposal to lift the drilling moratorium. We have already spoken of the ridiculous- ness of that suggestion: One Last Scam for the Sleazy GDB Era.
     Now we have Barack Obama’s more thorough energy policy, designed mostly by one of President Clinton’s energy secretaries, Frederico Pena. (These surrogates are well-schooled to speak of policy as “Senator X believes,” or “Senator X says” when it is actually the adviser who is forming the policy).
     The Obama plan offers only one positive response to dealing with the current crisis of oil prices—drawing from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a reserve held by the federal government for emergencies. McCain and others claim it is only for military uses, but those statements are not accurate. The origin was a fear of emergency military needs during the OPEC embargo of 1973, but Congress intended it as an emergency supply without restric- tions, as illustrated by subsequent drawdowns for domestic purposes.
     Another suggestion of the Obama energy policy is worth implementing, as was done after the embargo—a windfall profits tax. It is obscene the U.S. oil companies realized such record profits April-July this year as the American (and world’s) economy went into the tank.
     The oil industry argues the problem is the supply and cost of foreign oil, that they are not to blame. Check out how closely involved U.S. oil com-panies are with foreign oil production, where they obtain most of their oil and how much they bother to oppose the decisions and policies of oil-producing nations. Go ahead and tax windfall profits.
     Otherwise, the Obama energy policy is more of the same, a repeat of suggestions made after the 1970s crisis, implemented in part, but mostly junked in the 1980s, leading to the current repeat of history. His policy says nothing about the auto fuel-efficiency standards that have so many loopholes they allowed the proliferation of gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks, which many buyers are now trying to unload. There is a new push for nuclear energy, but history again should be heeded—the same problems that led to its rejection still remain, problems with safety and spent-fuel and water disposal.
     When biotechnology emerged as the new popular science, it became apparent we did not have to rely on fossil fuels any more and could burn cleaner fuel in our cars and factories. Congress had a great idea, but as usual, in a fit of excessive exuberance, it overreacted and passed incentives for producing ethanol as a fuel alternative (that’s why 10 percent of your gas today is ethanol).
     But we now know that proposal was overreaching and the incentives should have stressed alternatives other than those that affect the food supply, such as corn, contributing to the stagflation the nation finds itself in.
     What is needed, from Obama as well as McCain, is a deeper-thinking and longer-term energy plan.
     We need to begin thinking outside the box on energy. What- ever solution is proposed should exclude the oil industry, a firewall if you will, between the industry that has acted to impede oil efficiency as far back as the attempt by Preston Tucker to market a more fuel-efficient car (most of Tucker’s innovations were adopted many years later) and other efforts to supplant the internal-combustion engine. Do not look to that industry for a solution, so bar it from any attempts to achieve one.



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