Failure to enact bad energy bill would be triumph

Given what it has to work with, the 110th Congress will not have failed on energy if it enacts no legislation on the subject.

Bob Tippee

Given what it has to work with, the 110th Congress will not have failed on energy if it enacts no legislation on the subject.

A conservative observer nevertheless discredits the Democratic leadership for its failure so far win enactment of an energy bill.

In a Nov. 9 article in Wall Street Journal's online Opinion Journal, former White House political mastermind Karl Rove catalogues bloopers committed by the House and Senate since Democrats regained control: unbridled spending, proposals to raise taxes, failure to pass a budget, security lapses, and preoccupation with investigations of political opponents.

But in a list of "Congress's failures" to enact legislation, Rove includes an energy bill.

"Congress has not done its work," he says of this list. "And these failures will have consequences."

In fact, the consequences of failure to pass energy law as proposed would be altogether constructive.

Congress doesn't intend to do anything to expand oil and gas supply, such as allow leasing of closed federal land.

Instead it proposes to punish oil and gas companies with tax increases, distribute proceeds among politically favored producers of tiny amounts of uneconomic energy, and expand an ethanol mandate that's raising food and energy costs.

A strategy of suppressing growth of oil and gas supply and replacing it fractionally with costlier alternatives is supposed to promote energy security.

It won't. It can't. It will raise energy costs.

That's senseless. But that's what will happen if this Congress passes an energy bill.

The idea that passage of no energy bill constitutes failure flows from the liberal assumption that market distress compels the government to act.

Oil prices above $95/bbl indeed signal a market in distress—a market trying to grow against limits to supply.

In response to such distress, the priority and perhaps only appropriate action by government is removal of whatever supply limits it may itself have imposed, such as leasing moratoriums.

Proposals before the 110th Congress promise the opposite—further limits on oil and gas supply coupled with subsidization of expensive substitutes.

For US energy consumers, failure to enact this folly would represent not failure but triumph.

(Online Nov. 9, 2007; author's e-mail:

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