July 3, 2008

Commentary:

Rising Gas Prices and the Transition to Energy Independence

By Congressman Bob Filner

“America is addicted to oil.”

It was a striking admission, in the State of the Union address, from America’s oilman-in-chief. It may have been a long time coming, but Republicans and Democrats alike applauded President Bush for telling the unvarnished truth about a country that has just 1.6 percent of the world’s oil supply but uses nearly a quarter of the world’s oil.

But less than 18 months later, as prices are breaking records nearly every week, it’s a surprise to leaf through the Republican energy plan and see exactly what it offers the world’s oil addict: one last fix.

Drill on public land; drill in the oceans; drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Never mind that 68 million acres of federal oil reserves are already leased, available, and sitting unused by the oil companies. Forget that drilling in Alaska would only save drivers a penny per gallon—20 years from now. And ignore that more drilling has barely put a dent in gas prices: Since 2000, drilling on land has increased dramatically, while the cost of gas has tripled.

With the same skewed priorities, President Bush is planning to gift-wrap even more public land for the oil companies, so they can build even more refineries—when the refineries they already have still aren’t working at full capacity. In spite of all that, Republicans have prepared a windfall for the oil companies, one that would do far more to boost their profits than to cut our gas bills.

My issue with their plan is a simple one: It does next-to-nothing to forestall an energy crisis—while giving us the dangerous illusion that we’re doing something. Because even if the oil companies get every well they want, the facts will remain the same. There’s a finite amount of oil in the world. The demand for that oil, especially in developing countries like China and India, is skyrocketing. That means prices will keep rising.

We can best meet that challenge with short-term solutions to bring relief to consumers, combined with a long-term strategy to power our own future.

This summer, Democrats are working to keep gas prices under control. Over President Bush’s veto threat, we suspended shipments to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which could temporarily lower prices. We’re investigating price gouging by retailers, who may be using the cover of high prices to unfairly inflate their rates even further. We’re moving to hold the OPEC monopoly accountable for price fixing that flouts the free market and artificially drives up the cost of crude oil. We gave the Federal Trade Commission new authority to crack down on those manipulating wholesale energy markets to keep prices high.

Each one of those solutions will help drivers this summer. But they don’t change the big picture. They don’t begin to break our fossil-fuel addiction.

So Democrats are doing more: We’re paving the way for a future of clean energy. We’ve passed a landmark energy bill that invests in alternative fuels and ensures that, in 12 years, the average car will get 35 miles per gallon, the first real change in fuel efficiency standards in more than three decades. In one year alone, that will save Americans $22 billion at the pump. As an added benefit, better fuel efficiency will also dramatically cut pollution: To achieve a comparable reduction in greenhouse gasses, we’d have to take 28 million of today’s cars and trucks off the road.

We’re also investing in renewable and alternative energy. The real solution to the energy crunch is American ingenuity, in the form of advanced fuels, hybrid and plug-in cars, or even hydrogen fuel cells. And we can help fund these bold new approaches by repealing billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for oil companies raking in record profits.

The Farm Bill, which we passed over the President’s veto, will contribute as well, with an historic investment in new technologies to expand bio-fuels made from biomass and crop byproducts other than grain.

The “tax extenders” bill recently passed by the House—but held up by Senate Republicans—is similarly far-sighted. It funds renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, which will save more than 100,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector and help create hundreds of thousands more. But as with so many of our positive ideas, the Bush Administration is threatening a veto.

I know the benefits of clean energy may still be a few years down the road. But as President Bush promises to feed our addiction for just a little longer, some of us are planning for the long run. Because if we don’t, gas price spikes like this one will happen again and again—until we take control of our own energy future.

Congressman Bob Filner, representative for California’s 51st Congressional District

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