An Energy Policy That Makes Sense
When is a filibuster an opportunity?
When failure by the Senate to cut off debate and vote on a $31
billion energy bill gives members one last chance to govern
It won't be easy. The $350 million in tax-exempt bonds for "green"
development projects would have to go. That would mean Syracuse,
N.Y., wouldn't get its subsidized-soybean-powered mall. And Bossier
City, La.-a town virtually awash in casino money-wouldn't get its
riverfront development project that includes an "energy-rich
Hooters" restaurant. And Iowa wouldn't get its million-gallon
Alaskans would have to be told that the $18 billion in loans needed
to build a natural-gas pipeline would come without federal
guarantees of repayment. (As if a project that would deliver that
much natural gas to a hungry American market has any real chance to
In Minnesota, residents would have to be told that a coal
gasification plant will be built in the state only if private
interests step forth to finance it.
The toughest task would fall to senators in the farm states of the
Midwest. They'd have to tell their gasohol-producing
constituents-or at least the board members at
Archer-Daniels-Midland and ConAgra-that the federal government no
longer will spend billions to drive up the price of gas, drive down
the health of engines and prop up an industry that, absent huge
subsidies, would fade into obscurity in months.
The same goes for solar, wind, geothermal and biomass power.
Billions of dollars in subsidies haven't made them remotely
competitive. We've reached the point where they need to stand or
fall on their own.
Instead of the grab-bag approach, the two houses of Congress could
get together and take this opportunity to switch its focus to
strengthening our energy infrastructure, supply and security.
What would this mean? It would mean granting the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission (FERC) power to issue permits for interstate
electricity lines in bottleneck areas. This would go a long way
toward preventing blackouts such as the one that blackened states
from Massachusetts to Ohio last summer.
It would mean keeping the repeal of the Public Utility Holding
Company Act, a New Deal-era law that prohibits power companies from
investing in unrelated businesses. It also would mean keeping a
provision that would delay FERC's plan to create a "standard market
design" for the sale of electricity on the wholesale market.
It would mean bolstering our security by opening energy-rich areas
within our reach to exploration. Specifically, we need to tap
offshore oil and gas resources in the Outer Continental Shelf,
significant natural-gas reserves in the Rocky Mountains and 2,000
acres of the 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge above
the Arctic Circle in Alaska.
Some radical activists contend that exploration in ANWR would
destroy the environment, even though 27 years of oil exploration at
nearby Prudhoe Bay prove otherwise. Worse, they argue that there's
not enough oil in ANWR to make it worth the risk. Nonsense. The
mean estimate of ANWR's potential is 10.3 billion barrels. That's
more than twice the proven reserves in all of Texas.
Somehow, we manage to drill for oil all over Texas and work safely
around its 22 million residents. But we're told we can't drill in
ANWR, where 1,500 people live in an area the size of South
Carolina, staking out 2,000 acres of treeless plain, where
temperatures fall to 70 below zero and 58 days pass each year
without sunlight. Never mind that we could harvest the amount of
oil we buy from Saudi Arabia in 56 years.
It doesn't seem to make sense because it doesn't make sense.
Politicians make responsible lawmaking much harder than it has to
be. All they have to do is tell people that they won't, on
principle, accept pork for their vote. That they will, on
principle, demand an energy policy that emphasizes supply and
national security over picayune special interests and government
subsidies. And that they'll do this because plentiful, affordable
energy-more than any other identifiable factor-leads to economic
growth, higher salaries and more jobs. They should tell voters that
to vote for anything else is to abuse the trust those voters have
placed in them.
It's all they have to do. It might be tough the first time. But
voters will get used to it. In fact, they'll probably come to like
Coon is a senior analyst for energy and environment policy
at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a Washington-based
independent research institution.
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire