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Kerry Trumps Bush's Shortsighted Energy Policy
May 4, 2004
By Joe Fields

The Bush administration's attacks on John Kerry's energy policy would be laughable, were the subject itself not so serious. The image of Dick Cheney leveling false charges at Kerry was stunning, to say the least. But I reminded myself that when it comes to audacity, this administration has an overabundant supply.

Cheney's accusation of Kerry's alleged support for a fifty-cent hike in the gasoline tax was most interesting. According to the vice-president, if Kerry had his way we would be paying more than six hundred dollars extra per year on go-juice for our cars. As the president's ads tell it, one might be led to think that John Kerry came up with this diabolical plan yesterday, and he is not to be trusted.

All of this righteously indignant finger-pointing from a man and an administration whose energy policy was formed in secret by industry executives. All of this from a man who is so closely intertwined with Halliburton, they look like Siamese twins. All of this from a president who has sat back and done absolutely nothing to hold gasoline prices in check since taking office.

Senator Kerry doesn't deny that he briefly considered taxing gasoline fifty cents per gallon. But what Bush/Cheney conveniently leave out is the fact that this was over ten years ago, and would have been tied to Clinton-era deficit reductions. Kerry never followed up on his idea. He never introduced it into legislation.

Yet there was something introduced as legislation that Dick Cheney might want us all to forget. In 1986, as a congressman from Wyoming, Cheney introduced a bill which would have created a price floor of 24 dollars per barrel on all imported oil. Had his bill passed, since it was indexed for inflation, we would now be paying a minimum of 36 dollars per barrel.

But enough of what one guy briefly thought about doing and what another guy actually did. As we look to the future there are questions Americans are asking that this administration is obliged to answer. Why have gasoline prices risen an average of 38 cents per gallon since February of 2001, with no forseeable end to their rise in sight? When will there be a leveling off, or decline? And when will we get serious about weaning ourselves from dependence on foreign oil?

George Bush tells us not to worry, that he has everything under control. All we have to do is allow him to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. That will solve all of our problems. We can drill our way out of trouble.

Aside from the devastating ecologic impact such drilling would wreak, nothing could be further from the truth. Scientists estimate that the United States holds only 3 percent of the world's oil. As for drilling in ANWR, at best we would only meet one percent of our energy needs. And besides, it would take several years before drilling could produce a steady flow of oil from the reserve. In truth, the only ones who would benefit from drilling in ANWR are the oil companies and related contractors.

But even if we allowed Bush and Cheney to have their way, we could never drill our way around the trouble that is looming ahead. It is the elephant in the room; the situation that no politician is willing to discuss. The article, "A Giant Muscles In," by Rick Montgomery and Eric Palmer of the Kansas City Star details how China's hot economy is putting pressure on the United States. As the country of 1.3 billion people races to join the 21st century, its thirst for oil will become insatiable.

China ranks second in the world (behind only the U.S.) as an economic power, and they have barely scratched the surface as an industrialized nation. While 765 out of every 1,000 Americans own an automobile, only 20 Chinese of every 1,000 own one. It is estimated that by the end of this year, China's energy needs will have increased by thirty percent from 2001 consumption figures.

Given that China's industry is growing with amazing speed, how much crude oil will they require four years from now? How much in ten years? How will we handle this problem, if we still have no renewable energy infrastructure? Will we be willing, or able to go to war with a country of over 1.3 billion people?

Scary? You bet it is.

So a major question remains: what do we do to wean ourselves away from an ever- increasing dependence of foreign oil?

The truth is, at the moment, nothing. On very rare occasions, Bush has paid minimal lip service to the need for expanding alternative fuel programs. According to a report by Robert L. Bamberger, from the Congressional Research Service, the Bush administration wants to tie development of solar and renewable energy to revenue generated from the leasing of ANWR.

Not only is this another slick method to try to get a foothold in the Alaskan wilderness, but it is a plan that cannot be taken seriously. This administration has demonstrated a penchant for practically giving away leases to campaign contributors. According to Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post, the sale of oil and gas leases in environmentally sensitive areas in Utah earlier this year netted an average of 20 dollars per acre. Most of the parcels up for auction by the Department of the Interior went to influential Bush contributors - some of those for as little as five dollars per acre.

Given the fact that the energy industry has been subsidized by billions of dollars of government money over the years, while renewable energy programs have received only a few million in government grants, the prospect of serious funding through cheap oil leases is utterly ridiculous.

So where does John Kerry stand on the energy issue?

While the Bush team is busy running silly Keystone Cops-style commercials which completely mischaracterize Kerry's positions, the Senator from Massachussetts has laid out a thoughtful plan that not only will meet our energy needs of the future, but will eliminate our ties to Mideast oil.

Kerry, along with Arizona senator John McCain, proposes a measure to increase Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards from the current average of 24 miles per gallon to 36 miles per gallon by the year 2015. With current automotive technology, this could be done without narrowing the consumer's choice of which types of automobiles we want to drive. President Bush stridently opposes this measure.

Another item on Kerry's energy agenda would be tax breaks for consumers who purchase hybrid cars. Kerry feels that the government should play a role in pointing market demands toward cleaner and more efficient automobiles.

Kerry also identifies the urgent need for the government to get serious about subsidizing alternative and sustainable fuel programs, so that we can finally have the infrastructure in place to make these options a reality for consumers. With a combination of biomass, wind, solar, hydrogen, and hydroelectric power, it is possible that in fifty years fossil fuel will go the way of wood as a fuel source.

Right now, as the outsider looking in - the one who is not able to set policy - John Kerry finds himself in an unenviable position. Given the absence of a viable aternative fuel program, he has called on the president to apply pressure to the members of OPEC to increase crude oil production. It is a rather distasteful, yet necessary proposition.

For some unexplained reason, the president continues to do nothing, as he stubbornly refuses to twist a few arms. What I find most troubling of all is that we Americans continue to line the pockets of some of the very same oil sheiks who fund the killing of more of our citizens. I'm not too sure how much that idea upsets our president, but I tend to take exception to things like that.

Just like all of his endeavors in the oil industry before he ventured into politics, George W. Bush's energy policy is a dry hole.

Joe Fields is a freelance writer, covering the politics and issues of the day.

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