October 9, 2002

October 9, 2002 | WebMemo on Energy and Environment

Toward Reliable, Affordable and Secure Energy

We use more energy than ever in the United States, and demand figures only to increase.

We haven't built an oil refinery in this country in 25 years, and the ones we have all operate at or near capacity.

We depended on foreign countries for 25 percent of our oil in 1973, and an embargo by a cartel of Middle Eastern nations responsible for about half our imports brought us to our knees then. Today, war, which could seriously disrupt supply lines, has become a distinct possibility in the Middle East, and our dependence on imports has more than doubled to 53 percent.

Yet, Congress is on the verge of going home without passing an energy bill of any sort.

More than a year ago, President Bush put forth a sensible, balanced plan to give Americans greater access to reliable, affordable energy. His plan strikes a proper balance between increasing supply, reducing demand and caring for the environment. It calls for increased efficiency and refining capacity, upgrades to energy infrastructure and reduction in dependence on foreign oil. He seeks these steps because these are the keys to energy independence, not because he's a former oilman.

Since then, Congress has debated his plan. The House passed a bill that mostly embraces the plan; the Senate passed a bill that amounts to a demagogic sop to the extreme environmental left and leaves America vulnerable to exploitation by our enemies, including Saddam Hussein. The House-Senate conference committee trying to work out the differences has all but given up hope that a bill will be produced this year.

Conferees can't agree on whether it's more important to provide reliable, affordable energy or to force power companies to use more-expensive-but-politically-correct sun, wind and biomass sources for escalating portions of their output; whether to place restrictions on power companies that would suppress energy production and severely damage the economy; whether and how much to subsidize ethanol production and require its use in gasoline; how and how much to regulate the electric power industry; and whether to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR), an area in Alaska above the Arctic Circle that could produce as much oil as we would buy from Iraq in the next 58 years.

Here's a useful guide: Remember the problem-that America needs to increase its supplies of reliable, affordable and secure energy-and work from there. This is no time to restrict access to domestic resources, to place expensive, useless mandates on energy suppliers in the name of reducing purported "global warming," or to lavish still more subsidies on gluttonous agri-business giants. It is time to build up infrastructure, reduce bureaucracy and decrease dependence on foreign oil.

Congress indeed doesn't have much time left to deal with this crisis. It has spent enormous amounts of time debating the wording of a measure on which virtually all members agree in principle-the resolution to give President Bush the power to attack Iraq if Saddam doesn't allow full inspections. Meanwhile, it has been slow to tackle the equally critical question of how we will meet our growing energy needs-particularly if war disrupts some sources. Our security, our economy, our way of life depends on it.

Charli Coon is a senior policy analyst specializing in energy and the environment at The Heritage Foundation.

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