No gain, much pain
By V.B. Price
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a co-sponsor of the national energy bill President Bush signed this week in Albuquerque, was probably right when he said the legislation was the best a bitterly partisan Congress could squeeze out of itself right now. And what a disappointment it is.
In troubled times, when an oil crisis looms and when friends can't differ with each other about politics without getting hysterical, the nation's economy has become a sitting duck for any natural or malicious disruption of the flow of oil.
A sad irony of this week's signing ceremonies is that it was accompanied on the news by photographs of Sandia National Laboratories' impressive solar energy devices.
But when it comes to tax breaks and other incentives, renewable energy, like solar power, gets a miserly $411 million, while uranium, petroleum and coal get $8.5 billion in tax breaks and billions more in loan guarantees in the energy bill.
What makes matters even more pathetic is that the day after the signing, the New York Times ran a front page story on General Motors thriving by making minivans in China that get 43 miles to the gallon. The energy bill, on the other hand, is virtually devoid of incentives for fuel efficiency and is blank as far as mandating higher fuel standards for cars and trucks in this country.
And why has fuel conservation been so ignored? The official line from the majority in Congress is that fuel efficiency would require massive redesigning of vehicles that would make cars unsafe and cost jobs.
So, is General Motors making unsafe vehicles in China that get 43 miles to the gallon? Does fuel efficiency make a vehicle dangerous? Has China lost manufacturing jobs to make these kinds of vehicles? Of course not.
When most of us started driving fuel efficient cars in the 1970s, did we feel unsafe? I don't think so. American manufacturers did lose jobs to Japanese car makers - because they refused to compete for fuel efficiency.
The Bush energy bill is a thinly disguised attempt to squeeze every last dime out of the oil industry before all the oil is gone. It does this by promoting oil consumption in a time of growing scarcity, without adequately preparing for the energy transition ahead.
This is supply-side economics at its most idiotic. By giving massive incentives to overproduce a dwindling supply of oil, the Bush energy bill not only stimulates an ever-more-rapid depletion of that resource, it also leaves almost no money and no incentives for developing the energy sources that will have to replace oil when it runs out. Supply-side oil waste will destroy the multitude of companies that manufacture oil-based products. There goes plastic, for one.
No wonder the names of those who made up Dick Cheney's energy task force that helped dream up this negligent scheme have been kept so secret.