Analysis: GOP, Dems clueless over oil

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst  |  May 16, 2008 at 10:40 AM
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WASHINGTON, May 16 (UPI) -- Global oil prices spiked at nearly $127 a barrel this week, and Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress don't have the faintest idea what to do about it.

The Bush administration and congressional Republicans are quite understandably being hung out to dry by an irate American public. They controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress for most of the time from January 2001 to January 2007, and all their main energy and Middle East policies have collapsed disastrously.

Bush policymakers, especially the team of Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith that drove the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein and subsequent U.S. occupation of Iraq, were certain that "freeing" Iraq's oil reserves would rapidly bring global oil prices down to $10 a barrel. Instead, today they are more than 12 times as high.

But there is no indication that the Democrats now controlling both houses of Congress and poised to win the White House with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in November would do any better, and they could even be far worse.

For on Tuesday, the Democrat-controlled Senate threw out a GOP proposal to increase offshore oil and gas drilling to let cash-strapped individual U.S. states with offshore reserves make more money.

The plan would have allowed states to drill off their coasts and share revenues with the federal government, the (Newport News, Va.) Daily Press reported. It would have changed a current U.S. federal ban prohibiting offshore drilling along most coastal states, the newspaper said, according to a UPI report.

Also included in the same package of legislation was a proposal to permit oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Senate batted down both proposals by 42 votes to 56, with Republicans unsuccessfully backing the drilling and Democrats lined up against it.

"We need to expand on that policy to dramatically increase our domestic energy production," said. Sen. David Vitter, R-La.

But Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill, replied, "We can't drill our way out of this problem."

Durbin is narrowly right but broadly wrong. It is certainly true that opening new offshore reserves, especially off the coast of Florida, would not magically satisfy Americans' ravenous hunger for oil, which consumes 20 billion barrels a year -- more than India and China combined, although the United States has only one-seventh of their combined population.

But the United States needs all the domestically produced energy it can get, especially as the plummeting value of the dollar against other global currencies makes the cost of oil imports higher by the day.

Both Republicans and Democrats refuse to face the hard, unyielding facts of America's escalating energy dilemma -- and leaders of both parties are either too ignorant or too cowardly -- or both -- to speak the simple truth to the American public.

The first truth is that there is today no adequate substitute for oil, natural gas and coal. And America desperately needs to drastically escalate its use of its gigantic coal reserves and it offshore oil reserves until non-oil technologies can be developed.

Further, replacements for oil must be found not only for automobiles, but also for plastics -- which require huge oil inputs -- and nitrate fertilizer, which is currently essential for bumper crops.

President Bush chased expensive and disastrous fantasies, like turning over huge acreage of wheat-land to grow corn for ethanol -- one of the lowest-yield and most uneconomic and impractical functions imaginable. He has invested more than a billion dollars in the wild gamble that other biomass crops can do the job, although there is no serious prospect that over the next decade they will.

Bush's enthusiasm for hydrogen-powered cars is equally fanciful and scientifically illiterate. It takes more energy to separate hydrogen from the carbon and oxygen atoms it is bound to in water and hydrocarbon molecules than the separated hydrogen can release itself.

But Democrats who continue to refuse to allow offshore oil drilling or who even want to ban coal mining altogether, like the two lady liberal senators from California, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, are also living in a fantasy world far more unreal than Narnia.

Republicans and Democrats alike are locked in ignorant, closed-minded stereotypical fantasies. Getting America off its huge oil import habit will require a major investment in non-oil-fueled public transportation, especially railways and the rapid development of electric cars far slower and smaller than the SUV leviathans Americans have taken for granted for so long. And utilizing all the oil and coal available, especially in times of crisis, will be essential, too.

America's political leaders, left and right alike, are still in deep denial about these issues. The American people, however, may be ahead of them. A new Zogby Interactive poll released Thursday reported that 87 percent of those questioned expected the nationwide average price for regular unleaded gasoline to hit $4 by Memorial Day.

Nearly two-thirds -- 62 percent -- of those polled believed $5 per gallon gas would hit them sometime over the summer. They may well be right. Reality bites.

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