Bush's convention energy statement brief, puzzling

Bob Tippee

"To create jobs, we will make our country less dependent on foreign sources of energy."

That's all US President George W. Bush said about energy in his speech Nov. 2 at the Republican National Convention.

His challenger in the presidential race, while accepting the Democratic nomination July 29, didn't dwell on the subject, either. But Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) was more specific.

"Our energy plan for a stronger America will invest in new technologies and alternative fuels and the cars of the future so that no young American in uniform will ever be held hostage to our dependence on oil from the Middle East," Kerry said. He further promised to make the US "finally and forever independent of Mideast oil" and reliant on "its own ingenuity and innovation and not the Saudi royal family."

That neither candidate felt obliged to offer more than brief energy promises is unusual in a period of elevated prices for oil, gas, and electricity.

Kerry's utterance on the subject nevertheless made clear that his energy program would be one of government activism, high cost, and confrontation with disfavored oil exporters (OGJ, Aug. 9, 2004, p. 15).

Bush's statement was less geographically targeted and much more puzzling.

Reduction in US dependency on foreign energy—or Middle Eastern oil—is nearly always presented as a policy goal, not a means to some other end.

The recommendation here, though, is that the US reduce energy dependency in service to job creation.

This is either an editing error or something new for campaign promises. It's also richly open-ended.

Job creation is, in fact, a premier reason for the government to do things that would lower US dependence on foreign energy.

It should, for example, stimulate leasing of exploratory frontiers on federal land.

Yet it's easy to read Bush's statement as support for job fabrication through heavy subsidization of uneconomic energy—a political gambit that would destroy jobs elsewhere in the economy by raising employers' energy costs.

Bush's solo statement can herald to two very different courses on energy. The oil and gas industry should hope for early clarification.

(Author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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