You know that the Democratic race for president has become a roving Salvador Dali painting when Hillary Clinton starts comparing herself to Theodore Roosevelt. Take that, Barack Obama!
Hillary mentioned the Rough Rider as a role model for her proposal to slap a windfall profits tax on the oil companies. In point of fact, TRs Justice Department initiated antitrust litigation against the Standard Oil trust, the monopolist behemoth of his time. Roosevelt did not oppose large corporations on principle, and carefully chose targets for antitrust action.
Historical quibbles aside, Senator Clintons proposal is of a piece with Democrats' usual line of attack against high oil prices promises to vigorously police Big Oil and stop its supposed price gouging.
Ho hum. As the summer driving season nears, lawmakers in both parties have scraped threadbare ideas off the bottom of the banality barrel to show the voters that theyre doing something.
Neither the Democrats' sloppy populism, nor the drill-till-we-drop legislation submitted by Senate Republicans deserves to be taken seriously.
The Republican bill would fling open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the outer continental shelf to drilling. Proponents argue that the bill would cut oil prices by more than half a delusional claim that betrays false advertising at its most cynical, willful ignorance about the economics of the international oil market, or a fondness for exotic smoking materials. Take your pick.
The reason we are vulnerable to high oil prices is because we are too dependent on oil. We will not reduce that dependence, or "addiction" as President Bush once described it, by flinging protected areas open to drilling, anymore than an alcoholic can cure his drinking problem by changing saloons.
We use nearly three times as much oil as we produce, and there is no realistic prospect that even the aggressive drilling GOP senators favor would do more than nibble at that gap.
In any event, since oil is traded and priced globally, our problems with oil dependence are not rooted in where oil comes from but in the quantity that we use nearly 21 million barrels per day, about one-fourth of global production. Oil prices are influenced by many supply and demand factors over which we have little control. But we can do something about our demand. Which, by the way, puts upward pressure on oils price thus bringing smiles to the faces of Russian autocrats and Iranian bomb-builders.
In contrast, the Republican Senate bill would perpetuate our oil addiction, not cure it. It is not legislative craftsmanship, it is legislative malpractice.
But despair not. Occasionally, sensible answers for our energy problems cross the finish line in D.C.
Last year, Congress made a good start towards reducing oil dependence by boosting motor vehicle fuel economy standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, which will reduce oil consumption an estimated 2.1 million barrels daily by 2025 far more than even the most outlandish production estimates for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Efficiency is the necessary foundation for a rational energy policy. The superstructure is diversification, of both fuels and drive technologies. Fuels produced from inedible crops and wastes, along with electrification of auto transportation, are twin trails that must be blazed aggressively.
Perhaps, when there is another outbreak of Rooseveltian courage in DC, our elected leaders will serve as our trail guides.
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