I can’t decide whether to be heartened or depressed beyond reason by this NYT story on the recent flurry of energy-related bills in Congress. I’m leaning toward the latter.

Since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita shut down refineries in the Gulf of Mexico region last summer, speeding the rise of gasoline costs, House members have introduced 267 energy-related bills and senators have introduced 210, according to an analysis by the Senate energy committee.

On one hand, it’s nice that the energy issue is rising in importance and that legislators are paying attention.

On the other, the vast majority of the proposed bills are awful. Worse yet, the few that actually have a chance of passing are among the worst:

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Of all the energy measures that build on the 2005 law, three have a modest chance to pass both houses this year. One would open a new section of the Gulf of Mexico to drilling. One would define and outlaw gasoline price gouging. A third would give the president authority to set fuel efficiency standards for cars. Interest is also growing to increase the use of ethanol in gasoline blends.


More broadly, what we need is not a slew of energy bills but an energy policy. We need a clear understanding of the long-term problem and a clear strategy for meeting the challenge.

This will obviously require some compromise. I would be fine if, say, 50% of political time, money, and legislation were devoted to short-term fixes like building refineries and symbolically spanking oil companies for price gouging. But how about 50% for long-term action like electrification of the transportation infrastructure, development of inter- and intra-urban public transit, and aggressive technological development and deployment of genuinely renewable energy sources like wind and solar?

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Really, at this point even the vaguest of outlines would be nice. Instead we just have an incoherent melange of gimmicks, giveaways, and demagoguery.