AUSTIN, Texas — As a general rule about Bush & Co., the more closely a policy is associated with Dick Cheney, the worse it is. Which brings us to energy policy — remember his secret task force? In the long history of monumentally bad ideas, the Cheney policy is a standout for reasons of both omission and commission. Dumb, dumber and dumbest.
Ponder this: Next year, the administration will phase out the $2,000 tax credit for buying a hybrid vehicle, which gets over 50 miles per gallon, but will leave in place the $25,000 tax write-off for a Hummer, which gets 10-12 mpg. That’s truly crazy, and that’s truly what the whole Cheney energy policy is.
According to the Energy Information Administration in the Department of Energy, last year’s energy bill (same as this one) would cost taxpayers at least $31 billion, do nothing about the projected over-80 percent increase in America’s imports of foreign oil by 2025, and increase gasoline prices. (Since every bureaucrat who tells the truth in this administration — about the cost of the drug bill or the safety of Vioxx — seems to get the ax, I’m probably getting those folks in trouble.)
The bill is loaded with corporate giveaways and tax breaks for big oil. Meanwhile, Bush’s budget cuts funding for renewable energy research and programs, and anyone who tells you different is lying.
Now, here’s the Catch-22 we get with this administration: It is using the exact language of the bill’s critics — stealing it wholesale and using it to promote its bill. It’s our friend Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster who specializes in “framing” issues (framing means the same thing as spinning, and in the non-political world it is known as lying), at work again. Luntz put out a memo in January: “Eight Energy Communication Guidelines for 2005” telling R’s how to talk about energy using language people like.
The Natural Resources Defense Council found a Bush speech on energy on March 9 in Ohio that parrots Luntz’s suggestions to a laughable point — threat to national security, diversity of supply, innovation, conservation and (my fave) Point 4, “The key principle is ‘responsible energy exploration.’ And remember, it’s NOT drilling for oil. It’s responsible energy exploration.”
So there was Bush, as per Luntz’s memo, talking about “environmentally responsible exploration” and announcing one of his top energy objectives is “to diversify our energy supply by developing alternative sources of energy.” Polling shows 70 percent of Americans support a drastic increase in government spending on renewable energy sources.
I’m tired of arguing about whether Bush is so ignorant he doesn’t know that he is cutting alternative energy programs and subsidizing oil companies or so fiendishly clever that he knows and doesn’t care what he says. In the end, it doesn’t make any difference. You get wretched policy either way.
The Apollo Project, a sensible outfit dedicated to reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil, says 90 percent of Americans support its goal of energy independence. Bracken Hendricks, the executive director, points out that there is “remarkable agreement among many so-called strange bedfellows — labor and business, environmentalists and evangelicals, governors and generals, urbanites and farmers.”
Meanwhile, what we are sticking with is soaring oil prices (ExxonMobil just reported the highest quarterly profit ever, $8.42 billion, by an American company) and declining discoveries. Several oil companies are reporting disappearing reserves, and Royal Dutch/Shell admitted it had overstated its reserves by 20 percent last year.
Nor are the major oil companies spending their mammoth profits on exploration or field development — they’re doing mega-mergers and stock buybacks. ExxonMobil spent $9.95 billion to buy back its own stock in 2004. The Chinese and the Indians are now buying cars like mad, and the result is going to be an enormous supply crunch, sooner rather than later.
It is possible with existing technology to build a car that gets 500 miles per gallon, but the Bushies won’t even raise the CAFÉ (fuel efficiency) standards for cars coming out now. The trouble with the Bush plan to develop hydrogen cars is that while you can get hydrogen out of water, you have put energy in to get it out, so there’s a net energy loss.
Conservation is simply the cheapest and most effective way of addressing this problem. If you put a tax on carbon, it would move industry to wind or solar power. Wind power here in Texas is at the tipping point now — comparably priced. Our health, our environment, our economy and the globe itself would all benefit from a transition to renewable energy sources.
And as Tom Friedman recently pointed out, it would do a lot for world peace, too: “By doing nothing to lower U.S. oil consumption, we are financing both sides in the war on terrorism and strengthening the worst governments in the world. That is, we are financing the U.S. military with our tax dollars and we are financing the jihadists — and the Saudi, Sudanese and Iranian mosques and charities that support them — through our gasoline purchases.”