Like a lot of free-market zealots, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are all for competition --- until they get some.
Both former oil men, the president and vice president this week presented a budget that slashes funding for anything that might, someday, compete with the petrified dinosaur industry. Money for alternative energy and fuel-efficiency programs was cut by half or more.
At the same time, the Interior Department was OK'd to spend 20 percent more to explore for oil, natural gas and coal. Protected public lands are to be opened to those purposes. The Bush budget also hacks funding from a federal partnership with automakers that was developing gas-electric hybrid engines that get triple the current fuel economy.
But the Bushies have a sense of humor, at least. They promise to restore money for alternative fuel research in three years but only with money earned from leasing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil production.
Bush and Cheney seem to be gearing up to push fuel consumption as though it were crack cocaine. This is terrible policy. The energy crisis in this country, to the degree that one exists, is a crisis of fossil-fuel dependency.
Like any dependency --- from chemical addiction to over-dependence on government largess --- our carbon addiction distorts all other aspects of life to serve its insatiable needs.
Dependence on oil puts our entire system at the mercy of supplies and prices for the black stuff, and those factors are, and always will be, largely beyond our control. No matter how many of our wilderness areas we despoil, our country will always be dependent to a large degree on other countries --- including some that don't particularly like us --- for most of our oil.
Most of our worst environmental woes can be traced to burning oil and coal, as well. Global warming, urban air pollution and mercury in drinking water all come largely from coal-burning power plants and gas-burning vehicles.
Government policy, then, ought to have the aims of diversifying our sources of energy, promoting efficient and clean technologies and encouraging conservation.
The government shouldn't be in the business of coercing the shift from oil dependency, but by no means should it take the Bush approach of flogging increased consumption.
It is not imprudent to explore for oil and gas within our borders, but those reserves ought to be seen as an emergency supply to be exploited only in the event of a genuine crisis between now and the day we've weaned ourselves from fossil fuels. A genuine crisis would be a prolonged disruption of supplies from abroad, whether from war, natural disaster or other unforeseen circumstance.
A spike in the price of gasoline is not a crisis, but a market signal of the dangers of dependency.
Of course, one could argue that by putting the spurs to fuel consumption and gobbling up finite supplies, Bush's policies could bring on their own twin crises of premature depletion and environmental degradation. We grown-ups won't be around then, most likely, but our children and grandchildren will.
What sort of planet will they inherit?
President Bush atop the White House which sports bull's horns. / TIM BRINTON / Special
"BUSH RECKLESSLY PUSHING DEPENDENCY ON OIL SOURCES.(Editorial)." Atlanta Journal-Constitution [Atlanta, GA] 13 Apr. 2001: A18. General OneFile. Web. 30 Oct. 2009.
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