By Bob Difley
The Democrats caved in again, this time allowing the ban on offshore drilling to expire, a ban that has stood for 15 years. I can hear some of you cheering already, thinking that this will finally bring some relief at the gas pump.
Funny thing, this idea. Neither the Democrats nor Republicans (unless issuing sound bytes to the press, pandering to the public, or running for president) feel that “Drill! Drill! Drill!” is anything but political mantra designed to stir up public emotions. The government itself has said that the amount of offshore oil we could bring to market will not get there for at least ten years* and when it does it will mean only a few cents at the pump. (* Why so long? One reason is the shortage of enough petroleum engineers and equipment, as stated in an article in the NY Times May 15, 2008, “Relentless increases in the price of steel are halting or slowing major construction projects world-wide and investments in ship-building and oil-and-gas exploration . . . ) Yet, because it is an election year, the Democrats yielded to anti-environmentalist sentiment and a gas-price-enraged public to win votes.
I’ve also had comments that if we would have started drilling off shore ten years ago, we would have that oil now. The same holds true for fuel efficient cars, which would have been a far more effective program. Following the oil embargo of 1973-74, Congress passed the CAFE standards that required new cars to achieve a doubling of fuel economy from abut 13.5 mpg to 27.5 mpg in ten years. And it happened. Europeans and Japanese raised gasoline taxes at the same time to fund alternative sources of energy, so they wouldn’t have to go through a fuel shortage again.
So what did we do after the price of gas settled down and the fuel economy standards were met by the car manufacturers? Nothing. Not a move was taken either by the President or Congress to continue forcing the auto manufacturers to improve economy standards to keep oil prices low and to reduce our imports of foreign oil. In fact, President Reagan rolled back the standard from 27.5 mpg to 26 mpg. Not only that, he slashed the budgets of the alternative energy programs, and along with Congress allowed the incentives for solar and wind start-ups to lapse.
So what did the other governments do in that same time frame? The Japanese, with the extra fuel taxes, invested in fuel efficiency so that now Japanese autos dominate in fuel efficiency. (And the high price of gas encouraged Japanese drivers to favor fuel efficient cars, unlike in America where car manufacturers, Michigan legislators, and the United Auto Workers union continued successfully to lobby Congress to NOT raise gasoline taxes, NOT to create fuel efficient cars, and to have SUVs labeled as light trucks that were not bound by the CAFE fuel economy standards, therefore creating the demand for inefficient, gas-guzzling, polluting behemoths—which also, Surprise!, earned the auto makers their largest profits.) France invested in nuclear energy from which it now gets 78% of its energy. Denmark went for wind, along with solar, and now produces 16% of its total energy requirement from these clean, renewable sources, as well as creating an export industry that helped grow their economy by 70% by providing clean energy jobs. Brazil adopted ethanol as a fossil fuel alternative and now produces enough ethanol that it not only does not have to import foreign oil but sells ethanol on the export market—to the US!
Had we not allowed those with a strong oil agenda to control congress and the senate, and had we increased mileage only to what other, less developed countries—including China—have accomplished in fuel economy standards, we would already (1) Be paying a lot less at the pump, (2) Have eliminated—yes, eliminated—the need for any OPEC oil, (3) Reduced our greenhouse gasses well below the target 1990 levels, and (4) Have no need to endanger our natural lands and feed additional subsidies to oil companies to proceed with unnecessary oil drilling. We should be embarrassed that every other country has made wiser decisions than the supposed world leader, and that we still continue to defend our use of 25% of the world’s energy, while moving like a slug toward clean, sustainable, energy independence.
Here is what the Union of Concerned Scientists says about increased domestic drilling. “The oil savings from fuel economy dwarf potential domestic oil resources. Oil resources will take decades to develop, and will save at the most pennies per gallon, according to the Energy Information Administration. Because savings from reduced gasoline use go directly to consumers, rather than to oil companies, fuel economy should be our first choice.”
That’s not all. Congress passed a bill in 2007 to increase the fuel economy standard to 35 mpg by 2020. Yet analysis from Bush’s own administration shows that we could reach that milestone five years sooner. Figure out how much that would save in oil imports and savings at the pump over that un-needed five year period.
By Bob Difley