July 11, 2008 | Commentary on Energy and Environment

Nightmare for the Left

Environmentalists thought they had a lock on the current "progressive" Congress.

That lock is being pried open by public outrage about fuel and food prices - the consequence of wayward environmentalism run rampant.

Energy has become the biggest issue in America, and left-leaning politicians are either waking up to it or suffering a nightmare.

The repercussions are still in early stages as the ripple effect goes beyond the price of gasoline.

  • Ethanol - the left's favorite remedy (next to bicycling) - has literally come a cropper. The expansive mandate to substitute food for fuel has driven food prices up while doing little for clean air.
  • Efforts to pin the blame elsewhere are not going well. Targeting oil speculators has found little traction. Blaming oil companies for not drilling on every current lease hasn't worked, because people understand there's not a gusher in every acre.
  • Public opinion supports ending congressional bans on drilling where we know we can find oil and gas, offshore in particular.  "Drill here, Drill now, Pay less" is a more popular slogan than "Not in my backyard."
  • Mass transit use is up, but that generates demand for more government spending. (Government subsidies pay for 75 percent of transit costs). Those who ride shift their transportation costs off onto taxpayers. Where will the billions come from to pay for this?

People want solutions, but many in Washington are focused on avoiding blame. Congress has dropped even below lawyers as the least-popular folks in America with 91 percent of Americans NOT approving of Congress' work.

Yet politicians can't escape the issue unless they avoid their constituents.  Over 90 percent of America's working households use a car daily. Even when they're not watching the numbers fly by as they fill up their tanks, they see the big signs at every corner gas station that proclaim prices of $4-a-gallon and up. They notice, and their tempers rise.

Scapegoating isn't working. Political leaders who banked on the time-honored strategy of attacking Big Oil have found it no longer resonates with most Americans. Nor does House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's proposal to sue OPEC for charging so much for its oil. A windfall profits tax was duly trotted out and promptly voted down in the Senate. After all, if companies are taxed more, won't prices go up rather than down?

To much congressional dismay, savvy Americans have seen through these flimsy efforts to shift the blame and divert attention.

Those who proposed symbolic releases of relatively minor quantities from America's Strategic Petroleum Reserve (held for military emergencies) find themselves tongue-tied when asked why they won't support drilling for far vaster quantities that are blocked by a federal moratorium.

Old-guard liberals shut down the House Appropriations Committee rather than permit a vote on lifting the offshore drilling moratorium - because too many Democrats were prepared to bolt and join Republicans to allow the drilling.

Both parties have their problems, however. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., suggests we bring back the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit. That would slow down the economy as well as the autos, with negligible mileage savings.

But others are showing adaptability. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has backed off his oft-repeated phrase that, "We cannot drill our way out of this problem." His new message is: "Democrats support domestic production."

Public uproar over energy is rising, and that's a healthy thing. In 2006 and 2007, it blocked the awful immigration amnesty bills. Now it may produce positive legislation, if Americans continue to raise their voices. 

Many families have foregone expensive travel this summer. That leaves them more time to focus on what Congress is doing to solve our energy woes. Considering what Congress has done - and failed to do for years - would be time well spent. 

Scrutiny is the last thing this Congress wants, and the first thing it needs.

Ernest Istook is recovering from serving 14 years in Congress and is now a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Ernest Istook Distinguished Fellow
Government Studies

Related Issues: Energy and Environment

First appeared in WorldNet Daily