FOCUS ON FOREIGN OIL BREEDING COSTLY PROPOSALS

Bob Tippee

Exaggeration is nothing unusual from people with something to sell.

Because US President George W. Bush has an energy initiative to sell, overstatement on a fact or two should cause little alarm.

But the president is flogging the central argument for his energy ambitions—reducing US dependence on foreign oil—to the point of weirdness.

"Our dependence on foreign oil is like a foreign tax on the American dream, and the tax is growing every year," Bush told the annual Energy Efficiency Forum June 15 in Washington, DC.

Much can be said about dependence on foreign oil, of course, little of it positive. But calling it a tax is a stretch.

Yes, some economists liken energy price increases to tax hikes. But energy prices and dependence on foreign oil aren't the same thing.

That Bush—or whoever writes his speeches—doesn't understand this became clear in his June 22 remarks at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Lusby, Md.

"One of the reasons why your price of gasoline is going up is, one, we're dependent on foreign sources of oil," Bush said.

Actually, the price of gasoline has very little to do with US dependency on foreign oil. Net oil imports now represent just less than 60% of US demand. The gasoline price would be no different if the figure 20% or 90%.

Gasoline varies mostly as a function of the price of crude oil, which depends on global influences to which the US cannot, no matter how much oil it imports, detach itself.

These confusions would be unremarkable if they did not raise false hope and breed proposals for questionable remedies.

"Can you imagine walking—walking down the road here in the farmlands of Maryland—" Bush rhetorically asked his Lusby audience in a tribute to ethanol and biodiesel—"You see a guy growing soybeans. You say, 'Thanks, buddy, for making us less dependent on foreign sources of oil.'"

Given what some of the vehicle-fuel ideas championed by the president would cost, walking down the road is, in fact, not at all difficult to imagine. Thanks, indeed.

(Online June 24, 2005; author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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