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July 21, 2008

Bush the Pusher for a Nation of Oil Junkies


Call him the Enabler-in-Chief.


The last few State of the Union speeches, President Bush has warned darkly that the nation needs to break its oil addiction. Last week, however, he reversed course on that, suggesting that the cure for addiction is just one more quick fix.


Specifically, what the president did was lift an Executive Branch moratorium on exploration and drilling for oil in the Outer Continental Shelf.


It was, like basically everything this president has done, a political gesture rather than one of good policy. The Republican Party this summer has struck upon what was an unexpected stroke of potential for them – gas prices so high that the behavior of the American voter is actually changing.


Their solution has so far largely been two-pronged pandering – opening up oil reserves currently off limits for environmental reasons as both a panacea for American motorists and also to keep happy the oil companies that help keep the party’s coffers full. So far this summer, the debate over America’s energy future has been focused basically on one thing – to drill or not to drill.


Unfortunately, drilling to solve our energy problems is like recommending a thimble-full of water to save a man in the desert dying of dehydration. In fact, because of the time lag involved in actually getting the oil to market, it’s like telling a man dying of dehydration in the desert that you’ll get him a thimble-full of water in two weeks.


There is evidence for this, and it is not hard to come by. In fact, it comes courtesy of the very same federal government that George Bush runs. Studies on the amount of oil estimated to lie under the Outer Continental shelf say that the impact on the worldwide price of oil by what is to be had is likely to be negligible even when drilling reaches peak production in two decades.


This has to be tempered by a couple of other things, most notably the location for much of that oil. It lies off the coast of California, where the Republican governor and state assembly have mounted bi-partisan opposition to continued drilling, and have also demonstrated that they plan to take substantive action to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. The oil estimated to lie under the Outer Continental Shelf that isn’t off the coast of California, according to an analyst for the Energy Information Administration, amounts to less than the middle-of-the road estimates of what is available in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.


As an election year gambit, it’s meant to paint Democrats and liberals with the same brush of demagoguery that has dominated American politics for the last decade and a half. The word “radical” has again started appearing next to “environmentalists” with the suggestion that all might be right in the Republic if only the oil companies were allowed to explore and drill wherever they pleased. No thought is devoted to whether that actually makes any sense.


Here are the hallmarks to how the energy debate has unfolded this summer before an important election year – an intense focus on where the next fix is coming from, no careing about the long-term consequences and blaming those who suggest that a problem exists. From the outside looking in, this would appear to most reasonable people as a junkie about to hit rock bottom. Most of us can imagine how this story usually ends – with the junkie waking up in a flop house or ratty hotel and penniless, alone and in poor health. It’s then that they piece their lives back together.


It makes for excellent story telling, but politics isn’t fiction. It’s about fusing together policy based on reality. And as has happened with so many other things, the president isn’t helping to lead the nation to a better future, but enabling its addiction for short-term gain on behalf of his political party.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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