Now is the first time since the oil crisis of the 1970s that there has been so much bipartisan support for weaning the United States off foreign fuels, and reaching ever-appealing “energy independence.” Democrats tend to want to realize this goal by focusing primarily on conservation, efficiency, and alternative fuel sources. Most Republicans talk about all of these methods as well, but don’t think it will be enough. John McCain during the campaign, for instance, spent a great deal of time talking about the widespread need for more nuclear power plants, “clean-coal” plants, and stressed the importance of drilling for more oil within and around United States territory. Sometime in August, it seemed, the “Drill Baby Drill!” chants were starting to ring across the land.
Thank goodness. There is a surefire solution to energy independence that doesn’t involve relinquishing our massive Ford Expeditions and Hummers. If we just open up new sites for oil extraction off our coasts, we will begin to offset our oil imports (which currently account for two-thirds of US consumption), while also saving money on our gas bills. …Right? Well, most “Drill Here, Drill Now” chanters during the election season seemed to be ignoring the economic analysts’ reports that asserted that we wouldn’t see gas prices drop—due to the new rigs—for several years.
Still, election seasons are election seasons. And the Democrats, delightful opportunists that they are, hopped on board the drill train, lifting an offshore drilling ban to prove to constituents that they too cared about gas prices. But wait! Now, thanks to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, gas prices are at their lowest points in years, and all those conservation measures that people were starting to carry out without government prodding—buying efficient cars, taking public transportation and biking, taking fewer unnecessary car rides—are gradually falling by the wayside. SUV sales are up once more. And it seems that all that talk about drilling is off the table—for now.
And then there’s the Big Three. You know, the car companies asking for $34 billion from the government (read: taxpayers). Wait, but why are Honda and Toyota not going bankrupt? Perhaps because instead of clinging exclusively to “all-American” big ol’ trucks and marketing them heavily, they invested at least a bit in more compact, efficient cars that have brought most auto business to them over the past year or so. And only now—as part of their rescue plan—do Ford and GM talk about investing seriously in plug-in hybrids, battery technology, and other efficiency measures.
What should government do? Raise gas taxes now, while they’re so low. The Federal Government should even put a floor on gas prices so that people don’t go flocking back to the Hummer too. Invest revenues from gas taxes in public transportation, research and development, and alternative energy. It’s going to take a while to make the transition to alternative fuel vehicles, so let’s start with vehicles that use much less oil than those we have now, and then once cars are running mostly on electricity, make the switch so that the backup engine is running on cellulosic ethanol or fuel cells. Going forward, we need to stop thinking about drilling and start thinking about real, long-term, innovative solutions that will keep jobs within our borders, create new jobs, cut pollution, and actually wean us off foreign oil.
Photos: Oil rig (Wikipedia), Hummer (Hummerreports.com), Plug-in Prius (Autospectator.com)