Pos­si­ble so­lu­tions to our en­ergy prob­lems

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - PAUL WEYRICH

Pres­i­dent Bush held a re­cent press con­fer­ence on the cur­rent state of the econ­omy and the high cost of en­ergy. He made sev­eral im­por­tant points. First, he noted one rea­son gas prices are in­creas­ing is that global sup­ply has not kept pace with the grow­ing de­mand world­wide. Mem­bers of Congress, he said, “have been vo­cal about for­eign gov­ern­ments in­creas­ing their oil pro­duc­tion; yet Congress has been just as vo­cal in op­po­si­tion to ef­forts to ex­pand our pro­duc­tion here at home. They re­peat­edly blocked en­vi­ron­men­tally safe ex­plo­ration in ANWR [Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge]. The De­part­ment of En­ergy es­ti­mates that ANWR could al­low Amer­ica to pro­duce about a mil­lion ad­di­tional bar­rels of oil ev­ery day, which trans­lates to about 27 mil­lions of gal­lons of gaso­line and diesel ev­ery day. That would be about a 20 per­cent in­crease of oil [. . .] and it would likely mean lower gas prices.”

The re­sponse of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat: “Un­less the [Bush] ad­min­is­tra­tion gets OPEC [the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Pe­tro­leum Ex­port­ing Coun­tries] to in­crease oil sup­ply, Amer­i­can con­sumers are go­ing to be in for a scorch­ing sum­mer of $4 gaso­line with no re­lief in sight.” Ap­par­ently, Mr. Schumer ex­pects Pres­i­dent Bush to bully other coun­tries into re­liev­ing our eco­nomic prob­lems. This is wise for­eign pol­icy ad­vice if ever there was some. And if for­eign gov­ern- ments do not want to help us we should not ex­pect Congress to do any­thing about it. Af­ter all, why al­le­vi­ate need­less fi­nan­cial hard­ship when some sen­a­tors can use it as a po­lit­i­cal weapon?

An­other fac­tor con­tribut­ing to the high cost of en­ergy is that Amer­ica’s re­fin­ing ca­pac­ity has been stag­nant for 30 years, the last time a new re­fin­ery was built. Like ANWR ex­plo­ration, Congress re­peat­edly has blocked ef­forts to build more re­finer­ies and ex­pand ca­pac­ity. It has done the same with the use of nu­clear en­ergy. Congress also is “con­sid­er­ing bills to raise taxes on do­mes­tic en­ergy pro­duc­tion, im­pose new and costly man­dates on pro­duc­ers, and de­mand dra­matic emis­sions cuts that would shut down coal plants, and in­crease reliance on ex­pen­sive nat­u­ral gas,” as Mr. Bush said.

Fi­nally, there is no end in sight for fed­eral sub­si­dies to mul­ti­mil­lion­aire farm­ers. Th­ese sub­si­dies, as this col­umn has noted be­fore, cost Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers mil­lions of dol­lars a year, are waste­ful and gen­er­ally hin­der de­vel­op­ment of more pro­duc­tive farm­land and the plant­ing of mar­ket-driven crops. Yet Congress shows no in­cli­na­tion to cut sub­si­dies from the cur­rent Farm Bill.

By pay­ing farms to plant spe­cific crops re­gard­less of the de­mand for those crops or al­low­ing their fields to lie fal­low, th­ese sub­si­dies un­in­ten­tion­ally raise the price of other com­modi­ties that could be planted in­stead. Mr. Bush was cor­rect to note that con- gres­sional sup­port for farm sub­si­dies will do lit­tle other than con­trib­ute to the ris­ing prices of food.

Mr. Bush should be com­mended for giv­ing this speech. He was cor­rect to re­mind Amer­i­cans that if we want to lower the cost of en­ergy we must be will­ing to use our own re­sources, whether they are nat­u­ral or those we can build, rather than rely on oth­ers to pro­vide for our needs. Af­ter all, isn’t self-reliance part of the Amer­i­can spirit?

We should not rely on for­eign gov­ern­ments, many of which are volatile, to sup­ply our en­ergy needs, nor should our large farm­ers rely on fed­eral hand­outs to prop up their fi­nan­cially lu­cra­tive busi­nesses.

Through­out this eco­nomic down­turn, it has seemed as if Congress, the Fed­eral Re­serve and other gov­ern­ment agen­cies have re­acted rather than thought of pro­duc­tive ways they could lead on the is­sue.

It is wise for the pres­i­dent to be­gin to ex­ert some lead­er­ship here. Hope­fully he will main­tain a spot­light on this is­sue and pres­sure Congress to ini­ti­ate some con­struc­tive change, not im­ple­ment more reg­u­la­tion and taxes.

Paul M. Weyrich is chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Free Congress Foun­da­tion.

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