Friday, May 16, 2008

Congress still ducking hard decisions on energy

When members of Congress put their fingers in the air to gauge winds of public opinion, they can come up with muddled reasoning that defies logic.

They correctly again voted against opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to petroleum exploration and drilling to help quench the American thirst for oil. This is another reprieve for the environment and wildlife.

Having acted nobly to protect a perishable natural resource in the Arctic, they then foolishly voted to withhold 70,000 barrels of crude oil a day to the underground Strategic Petroleum Reserve, where it's hoarded to be used during catastrophic emergencies that interrupt traditional fuel supply lines. The reserve now holds 702 million barrels of oil.

Instead, Congress will allow the 70,000 barrels to flow into the consumer market each day until the end of the year.

This is sheer political nonsense. Congress is hoping the diverted fuel will lower prices by putting more gasoline up for sale. Numbers tell the story. The 70,000 barrels is equivalent to 2.9 million gallons of gasoline when refined. However, Americans now consume some 873 million gallons per day. The released strategic fuels constitute .3 percent of a day's consumption.

Instead of coddling motorists' demands, Congress should be making hard, realistic decisions on how to discourage petroleum consumption.

What should be attracting Congress' attention is an Energy Department report suggesting that 20 percent of the nation's electricity needs could be met with wind power by 2030. Windmill farms now produce just under 2 percent.

Were Congress to muster the will to launch a crash program with tax benefits and other development incentives, the private sector could indeed engineer and launch one of the most promising of the alternative energy sources.

Benefits alone in sparing the environment more punishment from greenhouse gases created by smokestack-generating plants would be awesome. Of course, coal, oil and nuclear interests would protest putting so much national effort into wind power.

While at it, members of Congress who're caught up in the current political mantra of "change" should muster the will to also dictate far faster and more efficient fuel standards for Detroit autos. The public overwhelmingly favors better mileage.

At the heart of drastically reducing poisons in the atmosphere and shifting more energy dependence to alternative sources is the willingness of Washington to adopt the mindset that global warming and energy independence require emergency action, not more hemming and hawing.

Gimmicks and pandering only worsen the problem and postpone the painful day of reckoning.

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