Out of Gas

Friday, September 12, 2008

CONGRESS expended a lot of energy debating how to solve the energy crisis before running off for summer recess for five weeks. It ended up accomplishing nothing. Now Congress is back and seemingly ready for more of the same. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will present an energy bill next week that would expand offshore drilling. But Republicans rejected the legislation on the basis of the outlines Ms. Pelosi released Tuesday. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) will hold hearings today with an eye to bringing energy bills to a vote sometime next week. But don't expect anything to happen.

Blame partisanship -- that is, the inability to take yes for an answer for fear it would hand your opponents a victory. The presidential campaign will only make this problem worse as Democrats and Republicans posture for voters back home in a vain attempt to look as if they're doing something about the pain at the pump.

That's not to say there aren't members of Congress working hard on these issues.

Since June, for instance, the bipartisan "Gang of 20" in the Senate has tried to bridge the differences between Democrats and Republicans to reach a compromise on broad energy legislation. It is sorely needed. The energy crisis facing the United States and the questions about how to address it without exacerbating global warming require a comprehensive approach that will include expanded offshore drilling, nuclear power and increased reliance on wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources of energy. Until Congress can find the political courage to make tough decisions, such legislation will never become a reality.

That kind of courage is in short supply on Capitol Hill. But there is something Congress can do before it adjourns around the end of this month: extend the production tax credit, which expires at the end of the year. The credit is critical for such nascent renewable-energy industries as wind and solar power. An extension would offer investors a measure of predictability and help make these enterprises commercially viable. Approval of an extension would also be for Congress an accomplishment that would give its talk about the need for energy independence the ring of truth.

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