Energy Crises

The presidential candidates have been duking it out over gas prices lately.

And with gas prices hovering at about $4 a gallon—putting the cost of a fill-up at better than $60—it is easy to understand why.

Much of the discussion, however, has lacked substance; rather than debating long-term strategies, we have been treated to proposals designed to plug into Americans’ immediate fears.

So we get John McCain’s proposal to lift a ban on offshore natural gas and oil drilling, an embrace of nuclear power and clean coal and the $300 million he’s put on the table as incentive to create a new, more powerful and efficient car battery.

Barack Obama has been better. He’s rightly pointed out that conservation and alternative energies should be our first lines of defense. He proposes implementing national targets for reducing demand of electricity and requiring all new buildings to be “carbon-neutral”; developing alternative sources of energy by requiring a growing portion of electricity to come from renewable and subsidizing alternative power; pushing for plug-in hybrid cars and increase fuel-efficiency standards. All of these are solutions that could pay significant benefits.

And for good measure, Obama is proposing a windfall tax on oil company profits, which would be tied to a tax rebate for average Americans—a plan designed to offset some of the pain being felt by drivers.

Joseph Romm, on, said that Obama deserves high marks for “easily the best energy plan ever put forward by a nominee of either party.”

As serious as this plan is, however, Obama has shown a willingness to join McCain’s pander parade. He initially opposed off-shore drilling, saying it would “merely prolong the failed energy policies we have seen from Washington for 30 years.” But once the polling was in, he backed away, saying essentially that everything was on the table, if it means enacting a comprehensive energy.

“If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage—I don’t want to be so rigid that we can’t get something done,” Obama said (Palm Beach Post, Fla.).

That may seem sensible, but it undercuts everything else he’s been saying about our energy addiction. During the same Florida speech during which he tacked backward on drilling, he again reiterated that “it’s important for the American people to understand we’re not going to drill our way out of this problem.”

He also reminded voters that even if we were to “start drilling now,” we would not “see a drop of oil for 10 years, which means its not going to have a significant impact on short-term prices.”

Then why place drilling back on the table?

It’s a good question, when you consider that the most effective energy plan does not include drilling, but does include much of what Obama is proposing.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said in an op-ed distributed by McClatchy Tribune Information Services, outlined a comprehensive energy agenda that does not include drilling but does include improved mileage standards for cars and small trucks, expanded mass transit and conservation initiatives.

Improved fuel efficiency, he said, would reduce oil use significantly.

“Fuel efficiency standards for passenger vehicles in the United States have barely changed since 1985,” he said. “If we had chosen to raise these standards (for cars and light trucks) by less than one half mile (0.4 miles) per year, the average car on the road would be getting 32 miles per gallon. This would reduce our oil consumption by 3.3 million barrels per day, or more than 16 times what McCain’s offshore drilling would get us twenty years from now.”

And were we to require light trucks to meet the same standards as cars, American oil use would be cut by about 1.5 million barrels a day and save consumers more than $30 billion, “even after paying for off-the-shelf technologies that would help close” the light-truck loopholes, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Investing in mass transit and energy efficiency not only would save energy but create jobs, Weisbrot said. This “green stimulus” package would include “tax credits for homeowners and businesses to make building improvements that conserve energy” (installation of solar panels, window replacement, new insulation, etc.).

Obama and Weisbrot are on the same page, except for the drilling plan. Obama needs to step back, listen to the energy experts he’s invited McCain to talk with and put the drilling plan to bed.

Hank Kalet is a poet and managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and The Cranbury Press. Email See his blog, Channel Surfing, at

From The Progressive Populist, Sept. 1, 2008

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