Feeding the Oil Addiction

Friday, February 3, 2006

"AMERICA IS addicted to oil." It was a catchy line in President Bush's State of the Union speech. But in truth, few administrations have done more to feed America's oil addiction than this one -- and the same can be said for this Republican Congress.

For most of Mr. Bush's first term, Congress struggled to pass an energy bill. Last year, Mr. Bush signed one into law. Although not as riddled with pork as some previous versions, the law did not change much, either. It provided subsidies for research on some of the alternative technologies the president referred to in his speech, such as clean coal, ethanol, wind, solar and nuclear power. But it also provided billions of dollars in new subsidies for gas and oil, including inducements to drill for more.

Moreover, as the bill wound its way through Congress, the White House rejected a number of measures that might have eased America's addiction. It quashed, for example, the creation of a national "renewable portfolio standard" that would have required utilities to get a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources, something several states have adopted. It rejected an "oil savings amendment," which would have required successive administrations to find ways to reduce oil use. It spurned any suggestion of automobile fuel efficiency requirements.

Nor did the White House or Congress ever consider imposing a carbon tax, the most straightforward solution possible: Indeed, if one had been imposed five years ago and consumers had been paying higher oil and gas prices as a result, some of the technologies now under discussion might already be on the market thanks to entrepreneurs, not government funding. But this president has never been interested in changing consumer behavior. On the contrary, when asked at a 2001 news conference whether Americans needed to do anything about their high energy consumption, his then-spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said, "The president believes that it's an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policymakers to protect the American way of life."

We are glad if Mr. Bush has changed his mind: This nation's increasing reliance on oil and gas poses economic, geopolitical and environmental dangers to the country. But we find it odd, given his environmental advisers' repeated insistence that he cares so much about it, that the president dwelled only on the two former dangers Tuesday night and ignored the link between America's oil addiction and the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. And we find it odder that it has taken five years for this president to notice that oil money funds anti-American regimes, that a dramatic price rise could quickly put this nation into recession and that the status quo energy policy long promoted by his administration and his party will not suffice.

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