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Gas and Hot Air

We need a balanced energy policy. The new Senate bill isn't.

Yesterday the Senate passed an energy bill mandating stricter fuel economy standards for autos and more production of ethanol. As someone who grumbles every time I drive past a gas pump (much less when I shell out $50 to fill my tank), who worries that U.S. dependence on oil from overseas is not in the national interest, who loves the outdoors, and who believes that human beings are to be good stewards of God's creation, I've got to say that the tank is half-empty on this thing.

The Associated Press notes:

"The legislation would require ethanol production for motor fuels to grow to at least 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, a sevenfold increase over the amount of ethanol processed last year.

"And it calls for boosting auto fuel economy to a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, a 40 percent increase over current requirements for cars, SUVs, vans and pickup trucks.

"The legislation also calls for:

"Price gouging provisions that make it unlawful to charge an 'unconscionably excessive' price for oil products, including gasoline. It also gives the federal government new authority to investigate oil industry market manipulation."

I'm no expert on these issues, but it seems to me we have a long way to go–Democrats and Republicans–before we have a realistic energy policy. A few random thoughts:

– Why is there no talk of increasing our national commitment to nuclear power, which, compared to foreign oil, is clean, efficient, and carries no risk of stirring up the bin Ladens of the world?

– Do the senators know that our already massive commitment to producing ethanol for gasoline contributes to inflation for the many food products made with corn, and that the resulting corn shortages hurt the poor in the developing world?

– Why is there no discussion of increasing the number of oil refineries in the U.S. as a way to increase the supply of available gasoline? The system that we now have is stretched to the limit and is extremely vulnerable to events that swiftly drive up the price of oil, such as refinery fires.

– Why don't legislators ever talk about giving back some of their own record "windfall profits" from taxes, which go up proportionately with the cost of a gallon of gas?

– Why don't politicians come up with new and creative ways to encourage mass transit? Where I live and want to go there are virtually no transportation options except for the automobile.

– While increased auto fuel economy would be helpful (at least for those with the means to buy new cars), are they willing to acknowledge that this will inevitably lead to more highway deaths as people drive smaller vehicles?

Yes, go after the oil companies if they are breaking the law. But remember that without the profit incentive, there would be no oil wells. We can't simply respond to the demand for oil. Let's also work on the supply side. Allow the laws of supply and demand to work. If demand is sufficient, new supplies should eventually drive down the price of oil.

Unless we simply don't want people to drive automobiles at all. For senators who get chauffered everywhere, that may not be a problem. For the rest of us, however, affordable gasoline is a moral issue.

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