America's Energy Follies

New Times OpEd calls recent bickering in Congress political theater that ' diverted the nation from the intellectually rigorous debate over energy policy.

Published: 04-Aug-2008

It’s hard not to be exasperated and even a little frightened by the Senate’s selfishly partisan approach to the nation’s energy challenge in the days leading up to its August recess. Given one last shot at taking modest but meaningful steps to deal with tightening oil supplies and climate change, the Senate instead settled for a schoolyard blame game whose main purpose was to exploit public dismay over rising gasoline prices for short-term political gain.

Senate Republicans tried to leverage voters’ anguish by offering proposals that furthered their unexamined strategy to expand offshore drilling. The Democrats responded by pinning the blame for the surge in oil prices on financial speculators, and offering a bill to curb trading. The usual bogeymen appeared, with Republicans’ accusing environmentalists of locking up precious oil supplies and the Democrats’ blaming Wall Street.

These competing bills provided a dashing image of senators hard at work, but neither provided any hope of relief at the pump for beleaguered constituents. The oil industry already has access to fourth-fifths of the nation’s recoverable offshore resources, mostly off Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico, and drilling the forbidden areas — protected by a longstanding Congressional moratorium that President Bush is trying to lift — would make only a marginal difference in prices 15 years down the road.

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