Energy: When will energy policy really change?


President Bush sounded serious when he recently talked about America’s addiction to oil and the need to break the habit. He  proposed slashing Middle East oil imports by 75 percent by 2025 and described how alternative fuel sources would lead us to independence.

It all sounded good for a few hours. The next day the official notice of bamboozlement came from the Energy Secretary when he stepped before the cameras to say, in effect, “Just joking.” It was only an example of what could be done, the secretary said, not something that would be done.

Whew! That’s a relief. After all, we’ve barely begun to tap the enormous oil reserves under Iraq. That’s assuming the new democratically-elected government will accept our military bases or even our mere presence, not to mention allowing us to drill their oil.

The president’s speech failed to mention that only about 20 percent of our oil comes from the Middle East. Much of it comes from other unstable regions.

And when it was announced that $150 million would be spent to make biofuels more competitive, the bamboozled public wasn’t aware that that figure is actually $50 million less than the previous budget. The new Bush budget calls for a 22 percent reduction in a commitment to renewable energy resources, an 18 percent cut in programs aimed at reducing consumption and a 30 percent cut in programs to help make residences more energy-efficiency.

The real joke in the talk about oil addiction is the lack of seriousness about quitting. Give me 20 years and I’ll cut back on Busch. Let’s drill in Alaska. That way I’ll stop hanging out at the tavern and quietly drink at home.

Finding new oil fields provides a temporary fix, but it’s far from a sobering end of addiction. Oil is a dead-end resource. As supply shrinks, will we go to war for fuel as the growing economies of China and India demand more and more? Oil expert Kenneth Deffeyes believes we’re already on the downward slope of production.

It appears that Washington isn’t willing to take charge and lead the nation away from the addiction and on to alternative fuels. It could have become the focus of the president’s second term, but no one from either party seems ready to offer leadership on the issue.

Twenty years from now, an editor daring to criticize the president can write about our over-dependence on foreign ethanol as South America is stripped for biofuel production.

In the meantime, the addiction continues. As usual, it’s always easier just to talk about it, and especially if you don’t really mean it.

– February 22, 2006