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Want lower oil imports? Expand federal leasing

Bob Tippee

The White House, Senate, and House of Representatives all want to reduce US dependency on foreign oil—in the most expensive ways possible.

In energy initiatives this year, they all bow at the altar of national energy security.

A sense-of-Congress bill that the Senate passed in January lists first among its purposes "to enhance the security of the United States by reducing the dependence of the United States on foreign and unsustainable energy sources."

Legislation passed by the House in January promises "to reduce our nation's dependency on foreign oil by investing in clean, renewable, and alternative energy resources."

In his state of the union address, President George W. Bush declared, "For too long our nation has been dependent on foreign oil."

Not one of them mentions increased leasing of the Outer Continental Shelf or of the tiny part of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that might someday become accessible to producers.

Bush, who pushed unsuccessfully for ANWR leasing when his political party controlled Congress, in January gave US petroleum a quick—and this year lonely—salute, saying, before rushing on to other subjects, "We must step up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways."

With Democrats controlling Congress, of course, expanded leasing of federal land is a futile hope. All current proposals promising to cut US dependency on foreign oil therefore dedicate themselves to government expenditure on costlier energy forms.

Ethanol receives a 51¢/gal blending tax credit and comes from grain that receives government price supports. Its increasing use is raising the price of corn.

Biodiesel benefits from tax credits of 50¢-$1/gal, depending on feedstock, some types of which also enjoy price supports.

By contrast, production of oil and gas from newly leased federal land wouldn't cost the government anything. In fact, it would generate federal revenue from bonuses, rentals, and royalties. It also could come to market in much greater quantity much quicker than the agrifuels now adored by politicians.

As long as expanded oil and gas leasing of federal land remains politically improbable, utterances about foreign oil and national security should not be taken seriously. They are, in fact, hypocritical.

(Online Feb. 23, 2006; author's e-mail:

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