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Kudos for seeing the problem. Now do something

Dear President Bush:

I thought you gave a much better speech the day after your State of the Union address. I'm referring to your remarks on America's dangerous dependence on oil, made before a corporate and political audience at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Del.

You were forthright, on point. Heck, sir, you were downright presidential. I watched the entire online presentation of your Delaware speech without yawning or falling asleep once. Unfortunately, I can't say the same thing about your State of the Union address.

What was different in your Delaware remarks is that you grasped the enormity of our looming energy crisis and managed to convey it to your audience in hard-to-ignore language. I'll share a few of your remarks with our readers.

"We have got to do something about our dependence on oil," you said in Delaware. And, you said, we've got to do something for two reasons:

"One, dependence on oil provides an economic and security risk, a problem that this country better start dealing with in serious fashion now, before it becomes acute. And second, we've got to be wise stewards of the environment, and dependence on oil makes it harder to be wise stewards of the environment."

You went on to explain, in words simple enough for Congress to understand, how growing global demand for oil has affected, and will continue to influence, the pricing of gasoline and all other petroleum-related products and services -- which is just about everything -- in the United States.

"The American people have got to understand that when you're dependent on oil, particularly from overseas, if demand goes up for the product in other countries relative to supply, the price of the product is going to go up here. We're in a global economy."

You continued: "We've got to understand that when the globe becomes interconnected economically, the demand increases in other countries can cause the price of oil to go up here, and it has an economic effect on our own economy. The more dependent we are on oil from overseas, the more likely it is that somebody else's demand is going to affect what you pay at the pump for gasoline."

And, sir, as you correctly pointed out, our dependence on oil leaves us vulnerable to terrorism. That vulnerability, you implied, could lead us into foreign ventures of the type that now weigh us down in the violent unhappiness of Iraq and Afghanistan.

You said: "You don't want your president sitting in the Oval Office worried about the activities of a hostile regime that could have all kinds of impacts on our security, starting with economic security."

No, sir, we don't -- which is why I can't understand why you didn't say something else. To wit: It's time for American consumers, especially in the matter of energy consumption, to stop behaving like first-year college students with American Express cards. It's time for them to face the reality that somebody ultimately will have to pay the bill for wanton energy consumption, and that the bill will be paid by all of us -- one way or another.

I commend you, Mr. President, as I commend Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.), Wayne T. Gilchrest (R-Md.), Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), John Linder (R-Ga.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), and other Republicans and Democrats for recognizing the nation's oil-dependency problem and for supporting legislation to do something about it.

But, sir, although your mind seems to be in the right place, your proposed solutions are not entirely worthy of your appreciation of the problem.

The problem is that both you and the Democrats steadfastly refuse to make it clear to the American people that they are going to have to change their energy-use habits, and that government might have to force them to change those habits through judiciously applied taxes and fees -- higher taxes on gasoline, higher taxes on higher horsepower in non-commercial vehicles, higher taxes on larger personally owned vehicles, and higher charges for driving (especially driver-only vehicles) into congested central city areas during rush hours when most vehicles waste more fuel idling in go-nowhere traffic than they do actually getting from Point A to Point B.

Both you and the Democrats refuse to call upon real estate developers to stop plopping their make-believe, financially lucrative (for them) communities miles away from central work areas without giving a single thought to mass transportation.

Both you and the Democrats refuse to point out to Americans that, although the price of gasoline currently is dropping, we all are paying a prohibitively high price for fuel with the deaths of our countrymen in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, seriously, does anyone anywhere believe that we are expending enormous amounts of blood and money in those places in the altruistic pursuit of freedom?

Get real, these wars aren't ideological. These are business-case conflicts.

In short, sir, it's all fine and good to ask the car companies and other manufacturing and business enterprises to deliver more fuel-efficient products and services. It's the right thing to preach against oil addiction. But it's all relatively meaningless if no one in power does anything to wake American consumers from their pleasant dream of cheap oil forever.

Technology alone won't do it, sir. You've got to kick some butt, even if that means you and your fellow butt-kickers get kicked out of office. It's not about popularity polls, sir. It's about leadership.

Editorial Notes: Washington Post columnist Warren Brown has emerged as the hardest hitting voice on energy in the mainstream media. Previous items by Warren Brown on EB. -BA

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