A wag once famously observed that, "Everybody talks about the weather,
but nobody does anything about it." The same has generally been true
about gas prices.
At least until this week. The hosing of American consumers
(hilariously satirized in a new video by Hollywood icons David and
Jerry Zucker at www.NozzleRage.com) and the attendant destruction of
our economy has finally gotten the attention of the political elite in
Washington and especially the Congress. Legislators are palpably in a
panic at the prospect of facing voters in a few months having done
nothing meaningful to bring down prices at the pump.
Don't get me wrong. Even now, even in the face of such "Nozzle
Rage," many on Capitol Hill are more interested in posturing than doing
something practical. Some leading figures in both parties continue to
play to their respective constituencies. They remain more interested in
gaming the system so as to avoid blame and secure advantage in the
balloting this November than achieving results for either their
constituents or the nation.
Hence, we will see this week the Democratic leadership pushing for
legislation to punish "speculators" who are their latest whipping boys
for the current crisis. Is it too cynical to think the previous ones -
the companies vilified as "Big Oil" - proved too hard to saddle with a
windfall profit tax in a year when those profits are fueling, among
other things, campaign contributions? Or maybe it finally dawned on
these partisans that we are better off having America's energy
companies use their revenues to explore and recover more oil and gas?
Speaking of drilling, a number of Republicans on and off the Hill
are promoting more drilling offshore and in Alaska as the answer to the
present national security as well as economic disaster. While that
would certainly be part of a sensible solution over the
medium-to-longer-term, there is an unhappy reality: As long as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries
can reduce its output to offset any increase we make in domestic supply
the net effect on prices could be nil. Obviously, that applies as well
to the untapped-but-already-licensed reserves Democrats are trying to
use to parry the GOP's effort to open up new ones in what are depicted
as "environmentally sensitive areas."
At the moment, it is not clear - despite the impetus of the public's
outrage - that partisans on either side of the aisle will be able to
muster sufficient majorities to advance their energy gambits. All other
things being equal, they seem content to blame the other for inaction
and hope the voters respond in a way that doesn't simply amount
literally to a pox on both their houses.
Fortunately, it appears this week may also produce an alternative
initiative that (1) could make a practical and meaningful difference on
the price of gasoline in the relatively near-term and (2) enjoy broad
Today, Democratic Sens. Joe Lieberman and Ken Salazar will join Republican Sens. Susan Collins
and Sam Brownback in introducing the "Open Fuel Standard Act of 2008."
This legislation would put into law a promise made repeatedly by
America's car manufacturers: to make half their new cars Flexible Fuel
Vehicles (FFVs) by 2012. These are cars that can use gasoline, alcohols
(ethanol or methanol from whatever source) or some combination. It
would require foreign competitors to do the same, then up that
percentage to 80 percent by 2015. Companion bipartisan legislation is
expected shortly to be put in play in the House of Representatives.
Mr. Lieberman and Miss Collins, the chairman and ranking member
respectively of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Committee, will precede a midday press conference unveiling their
legislation by holding a hearing on the energy crisis and what might be
done about it. While much of the attention will likely be focused on
the testimony offered by the estimable T. Boone Pickens - who is
currently spending tens of millions of dollars promoting the use of
wind power to generate electricity and natural gas to power
automobiles, senators and the public alike would be well-advised to
listen attentively to the remarks of another witness: Gal Luft of the
Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.
Together with his colleague, Anne Korin, Dr. Luft co-founded the Set America Free Coalition
- an extraordinarily broadly based pick-up team of national security
experts, energy specialists, environmental groups, scientists,
academics, business leaders and other activists. The Coalition has been
the driving force behind a blueprint (www.SetAmericaFree.org) for
energy security. At the moment, its highest priority is the adoption of
an Open Fuel Standard.
Among many riveting facts in Dr. Luft's testimony - including his
documentation of the insidious role of the Saudi-led oil cartel, OPEC,
in restricting supply and manipulating prices in a manner consistent
with the sort of economic warfare against the West promised a decade
ago by al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden - is this fact: Unless an Open Fuel
Standard is adopted swiftly, during the tenure of a senator elected in
2008, more than 100 million new cars will be introduced onto America's
highways the bulk of which can be powered only by gasoline. Given that
these cars will be around, on average, for about 17 years, such an
arrangement would mean perpetuating the United States' present vulnerability to OPEC's strategically dangerous and economically ruinous extortion for nearly two decades to come.
The time has come to do something meaningful about America's energy
freedom. Adopt the Open Fuel Standard. Accept no substitutes.