Gas is still at $4 a gallon, but the good news is there's an emerging
consensus on a measure that would help: Drill for more oil here at home.
President Bush dropped the executive ban on offshore oil and natural gas
exploration last week, and House GOP leader John Boehner plans to lead a
congressional delegation to Colorado and Alaska to highlight America's abundant
energy resources this week. Polls show more than two-thirds of the public
support increased domestic energy exploration and production. Guess who stands
in the way.
Congress has its own ban on offshore energy exploration, and the Democrats
who run Congress have shown no sign that they are willing to follow Bush's
example. They have preferred to make excuses--about why the price of oil is
rising, who is to blame for its rise, and why increasing domestic supply won't
do anything to ameliorate the problem.
It isn't working. Democrats are losing the fight over gas prices, and they
know it, too.
They have slowly changed positions as the absurdity of their arguments has
become clear. First they ignored the problem altogether. Earlier this summer,
Senate Democrats wasted time debating a carbon cap-and-trade scheme that would
have raised energy prices dramatically at a time when those prices were already
at record highs. Cap and trade crashed and burned.
For a long while, Democrats simply blamed the oil companies for the spike in
gasoline prices. They proposed new windfall profits taxes on "Big
Oil," which would of course be passed on to the consumer, making gasoline
even more expensive. They even threatened to sue OPEC. Nonstarters all. The
price of oil didn't drop.
Then the Democrats--and, to their discredit, plenty of Republicans--decided
to scapegoat "speculators." The thinking here is that commodities
traders have a financial interest in watching prices go up. Well, some do.
Others--those betting prices will fall--do not. The fact that there are traders
of oil futures has nothing to do with why those prices increase. The
"speculators" just make bets on where the price of a commodity will
be by a certain date. This year, the bets on higher oil prices have been good
because the falling dollar, rising global demand, and political instability in
the Middle East and Africa are driving the price of this particular commodity
When ignorance and finger-pointing didn't work, Democrats dusted off the law
of supply and demand. But they refused to acknowledge that one of the best ways
to increase supply is to expand America's production capacity by opening new
territory to exploration. Rather, they demanded that Bush release oil from the
Strategic Petroleum Reserve, forgetting that the reserve is called
"strategic" for a reason. It's meant to be used in a national
emergency. Bush has stopped new shipments to the reserve, increasing supply on
the (microscopic) margins.
Meanwhile, New York senator Charles Schumer demanded that other
oil-producing nations increase production in order to lower U.S. gas prices. If
only the Saudis "produced half a million barrels more oil a day,"
Schumer said, "the price would come down a very significant amount."
Maybe so. But why rely on the Saudis? Why not take steps to increase our own
supply? Are we dependents?
The Democrats' next tack was to suggest that the oil
companies are sitting on millions of acres of oil and not doing anything about
it. Last week House Democrats tried to pass a "use it or lose it" law
that would have denied federal land leases to oil companies if the companies
couldn't demonstrate that they were producing energy on existing plots. The
bill was rejected, and for good reasons. For one, there is already a "use
it or lose it" provision in federal law. For another, the bill was premised
on the idea that 4.8 million barrels of oil a day could be extracted from these
"unused" lands. Boehner has asked Speaker Pelosi where this
unsubstantiated statistic comes from. She hasn't said. That is because the
number is a joke.
Finally, Democrats are attacking the pro-drilling folks for thinking ahead.
Exploring deposits on the continental shelf "wouldn't produce a drop of
oil for seven years or longer," wrote Senator Dianne Feinstein. Nobel
laureate Al Gore said last week, "It is only a truly dysfunctional system
that would buy into the perverse logic that the short-term answer to high
gasoline prices is drilling for more oil ten years from now."
Leave aside, for a moment, the fact that no one is saying drilling is a
short-term answer to the long-term energy challenge. Recall, instead, that
Feinstein and Gore are simply echoing what critics say every time the drilling
issue arises. Whether it is twenty or ten years ago or today, the answer is
always, "You won't see anything for ten years." Okay, then. But if we
had drilled ten years ago, wouldn't those supplies be on the market today?
No one pretends that drilling will solve all our
problems overnight. But it will send a powerful signal to the markets that
America is serious about energy and the global economy. It will send a signal
that we are taking action, that we are not helpless. The 25-year boom of the
1980s and 1990s coincided with, and to an extent depended on, an era of cheap
and plentiful energy. To get there again requires favoring the national
interest over the parochial interests of environmentalists. No excuses. It's
time to drill.