Finger pointing

Just in case higher gasoline prices become an election issue this year, politicians are positioning themselves to blame the other party.

Just in case higher gasoline prices become an election issue this year, politicians are positioning themselves to blame the other party.

In the Senate, Republicans claim the administration lacks an energy policy and proposed a bill with the goal of cutting US oil imports dependence to 50% (OGJ, May 22, 2000, p. 28).

House Republicans chimed in recently at a House energy and power subcommittee hearing on energy policy.

Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) said, "We could argue that, for the past 67 years, we've been adrift in terms of a coherent energy policy."

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) countercharged, "In the past 6 years that Republicans have been in the majority (in Congress) they've failed to pass any (energy) legislation."

With that politicized background, private-sector and industry witnesses offered some practical suggestions.

Policy void

Adm. James Watkins, former President George Bush's energy secretary, said the Clinton administration has floated energy policy "puff pieces" lacking plans to ensure their execution.

Watkins, now president of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions, said higher oil prices this spring were partly due to "our own failure to enhance US oil production as initially recommended in the Bush strategy 10 years ago."

Phil Sharp, a former chairman of the subcommittee, said that, for 2 decades, US energy policy has been to rely on a competitive market for adequate supplies. "It is a bipartisan policy; it is an effective policy. It is not well understood."

Sharp said US consumers should realize they live in an energy-interdependent world. "This may explain why some of our rhetoric about energy policy is so at odds with reality and why so many policy proposals miss their mark.

"One of the major lessons from the 1970s is that there is no set of acceptable import-reduction policies that can achieve anything close to 'independence.'"

He said slashing US oil imports "would in no way end our strategic concern with world oil markets in general and Persian Gulf supplies in particular. US crude oil prices are largely set by the world market."

Industry views

Oil and gas groups argued for a reliable energy development plan.

Red Cavaney, American Petroleum Institute president, said, "A steadily increasing demand for our products simply cannot be sustained over time if government policies are consistently at odds with the practical operational needs of the industry.

He said the government also should inform consumers of the energy costs of environmental laws. For example, he said California's stringent fuel specifications have limited refiners' ability to make enough fuels.

Barry Russell, Independent Petroleum Association of America president, said the US needs to recognize the importance of domestic oil and gas supplies with policies encouraging the investments, the resource base, and the technology needed to develop them.

He urged Congress to order an inventory of US energy resources and what laws, regulations, or conflicting management plans prevent their development.

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