When it comes to energy policy, Amory Lovins has proven again and again that he’s a pretty smart guy. At the moment, nothing seems more insightful than one of Amory’s comments in the May/June issue of Mother Jones.
Asked what energy policies the next president should champion, Lovins was skeptical. He believes energy policy will continue to be made not at the national level, but by communities and states. “With modest exceptions,” Amory said, “our federal energy policy is really a large trough arranged by the hogs for their convenience.”
Right now, the hogs are eating very, very well.
With voters struggling from record prices for gasoline and all of the products made from petroleum and with no end in sight, the oil companies are pushing for more leases to drill for more oil on more public lands. President Bush, Big Oil’s special friend in the White House, is pushing for more drilling, too, as are a number of people in Congress. At the moment, most Democrats on the Hill seem to be holding fast against this strategy — but there’s an election coming up.
The fallacious idea is that we can drill our way out of the petroleum problem if only the treehuggers get out of the way. That argument already has been debunked in several places. Even T. Boone Pickens, who has decided he’s made enough money in oil, is purchasing television air time to say that drilling isn’t the answer. But two points are worth repeating.
First, oil companies already are choking on more public leases than they can develop. They’re using our energy crisis as an opportunity not only to rake in record profits, but to secure as many leases as possible before President Bush leaves office. It’s a mineral rush.
Over the past eight years, the Administration already has shoveled leases out the door as fast it has been able, relaxing environmental reviews to speed up the paperwork — so much so that federal employees have protested, despite the risk of retaliation from the Administration’s message police. Given this history, one might suspect that the president’s refusal to release some oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a gambit to keep up the pressure for more drilling. In other words, he seems to have decided that we consumers should be held hostage at the pump until Congress caves and gives oil companies lots more places to drill.
But, as many now have noted, even if the industry could drill in ANWR and offshore and in pristine public lands, the new supplies wouldn’t lower the price of gasoline much and wouldn’t have any impact for years.
Second, if we are addicted to oil, a change in suppliers won’t cure us. On the flip side of $145 oil is an enormous opportunity to finally make the switch to cleaner and more sustainable energy supplies and to a future in which our jobs no longer are vulnerable to a blockade in the Strait of Hormuz, or vandalism in Nigeria, or a cutoff by Iran, or some other little tremor in the world oil market. If not now, when?
Third, it’s time to stop and think carefully about what George Bush and Dick Cheney are doing to the country. Be careful — the examples of damage may be too much for any one brain to hold. For the purposes of this post, it’s enough to grasp that the next president will have to spend so much time trying to repair the messes of his predecessor that he will have little time for anything else.
In regard to climate change, the White House is inflicting damage with both fists. The oil cabal inside the West Wing continues to fill the trough for the oil cartel on the outside. In addition to the push for more drilling, the Administration is “working with” the Iraqi government to help U.S. oil companies get access to Iraq’s petroleum fields. (To the victor go the oils.)
With the other hand, the White House is performing a transparent public relations tap dance on climate action while it continues to block action behind the scenes. At the G8 summit this week (destined to be known as “Slight of Hand in Japan“) the developed nations issued statements about how much they care about climate change and Bush got some good press for convening the discussion. But the G8 proved itself to be a gaggle of global warming wimps, unwilling to commit to firm targets for reducing emissions. Meanwhile, back in Washington, word circulated that Bush plans no change in his no-action policy, and the EPA has no plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions during this Administration.
In sum, the Bush energy/climate policy is: “Let’s make our carbon legacy last as long as possible. Let’s drill America into a hole it cannot get out of.”
While we’re speaking of things underground, that muffled sound you hear is President Eisenhower rolling over in his grave. It was Eisenhower who, as he departed office in 1961, warned us to beware of “unwarranted influence” by the military-industrial complex:
The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Eisenhower was speaking of the potential for an unholy alliance between the military and the U.S. arms industry. Today, he might well add the oil industry to his definition of the complex. Our military has been ordered into the service of Big Oil to secure its continuing access to supplies. The alliance has proved profitable for defense-related companies (by one estimate, private contractors in Iraq are being paid $4.5 billion a month) and apparently will be good for U.S. oil companies, too. But it has proven very expensive for our armed forces and the national economy. President Bush is not only begging the more oil from the Saudis; he’s borrowing much of the money for the Iraq war from China — the first time since the Revolutionary War that America has financed a conflict by borrowing from other nations.
Can the next president save us from all the damage? Will he? That’s a question we’ll explore in Hog heaven, Part 2.