Sunday, December 9, 2007

Risking Offense

There's nothing particularly objectionable about Sen. Collins' Op-Ed on fuel prices and energy independence. But that's actually part of the problem.

Because there's no way to end our country's reliance on foreign oil ("addiction" is too weak a word) without offending either big business or the oil companies, environmentalists or the automakers--or all of the above:

Do we spend staggering sums of money on research in development in a way that crowds out other spending? Do we make a national commitment to nuclear power and wind farms? Do we allow more oil drilling in Alaska, the gulf coast and just about everywhere in between?

These are difficult questions; they desperately need to be answered. But answering them is bound to anger somebody.

Yet Sen. Collins--even as she calls for a "Herculean effort"--doesn't seem prepared to back any plan nearly bold enough to actually solve the problem.

To wit: While I'm glad she's sponsored a $275 million dollar R & D amendment to the energy bill, let's not kid ourselves--that's chump change.

Collins' amendment sets aside about as much for a year's worth of R & D as we're spending in Iraq every six hours.

(Priorities, anyone?)

The junior senator also touts the current attempt in Congress to raise the gas mileage standards for cars and trucks. But the increases she's lauding don't take effect until 2020, and they've faced little more than token opposition from the automakers.

Will 35 mpg in 2020 really solve the problem? And can we really wait that long?

Finally, Sen. Collins warns of the dangers of "speculation" and price-manipulation in the futures market, suggesting that traders are driving up prices.

The junior senator clearly knows far more about this issue than I do. But everything I've read (including this) suggests that the rapid rise in oil's price over the last few years has been driven, at its core, by increases in demand against the backdrop of finite supply.

Speculation may play some role at the margins, but no one seems to think we're going back to $30-per-barrel oil anytime soon. So intimations that nefarious traders are at the heart of our energy conundrum--and, implicitly, that the conundrum can be resolved simply by reining in Wall Street--is disingenuous at best.

Or, to put it another way, whatever you think of Collins' donor base, don't blame the spike in oil prices on them.

1 comment:

Owl said...

Looks like this bill passed, I guess with most of the language S.C. promo-ed here. Yep, drop in the bucket, considering America spends between $1 billion and $1.5 billion per DAY for gasoline and diesel at retail.