Washington blusters while energy future grows dimmer
The president wants Congress to lift a prohibition on offshore drilling for oil and gas.
When President Bush called on Congress to end a federal ban on offshore drilling for gas and oil, he was aware that lifting the moratorium would not lower current gasoline prices.
He knew that scolding Democrats and blaming them for soaring fuel costs would not engender the cooperative atmosphere he claimed he wanted to create new legislation.
What he accomplished, however, was to remind Americans that he has done little to move the country toward energy independence as he had pledged after the 9/11 attacks, that had he forged intelligent, practical policies for renewable fuels and technologies along with careful development of domestic gas, oil and other resources years ago, the nation would be much better off.
The president's Rose Garden speech yesterday should be acknowledged for what it was - a political salvo to bolster John McCain's bid for the Oval Office and a feeble attempt to stave off an energy crisis on his watch.
Democrats in Congress reacted predictably, repeating accusations of pandering to the oil industry, a routine as tiresome as the president's.
Bush's call for opening offshore zones to oil companies counters his longstanding position, but echoes a proposal McCain advanced this week. The ban Bush and McCain want lifted was imposed by Congress in 1982. Bush could retract another obstacle - a ban on coastal exploration enacted by his father in 1990 and extended by President Clinton to 2012 - but he has refused to do so.
Whether opening coastal areas to drilling would boost oil supplies significantly is uncertain. The government estimates the amount in offshore zones at 16 billion barrels, but it's just guessing. And actual extraction would depend on oil companies that have yet to begin production on 68 million acres of federal lands they hold in lease.
Should the ban be removed, the administration would have to provide incentives or pressure companies to get moving, which Bush has declined to do. In addition, coastal states would want a cut of the action and a say in environmental protections and other issues.
While higher demand for decreasing supplies has been blamed for rising oil prices, at least part of the dramatic increases recently can be attributed to speculation in the market as heavyweight investors search for better stakes.
Still, the reality is that the days of cheap oil are behind us and drilling for more off shore, in shale basins of the West and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as Bush again urged, is thinking in the short term. Even without environmental considerations, a carbon-based economy just isn't sustainable. And if Washington politicians continue to blow hard on a matter of great importance to the country, Americans would do better by calling for a cap on their gaseous emissions.