US politicians need to calm down on energy

Before taking another step on energy, US politicians should calm down.

May 18th, 2007

Bob Tippee

Before taking another step on energy, US politicians should calm down.

"I start from the presumption," said Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) at a Deloitte energy conference last week in Washington, DC, "that overcoming US dependence on imported energy and working with other nations to prevent energy crises are fundamental national security imperatives on a par with controlling weapons of mass destruction."

Good grief. If dependence on foreign energy threatened national security to that degree, the US already would be a wreck. It's not. It has been importing oil and natural gas for many years. The foreign share of total supply increases. The economy grows. Even with oil prices high, the economy grows.

Is it the elevated price of gasoline that makes politicians come unhinged this way?

In his speech, Lugar offered a list of "nightmare scenarios" with oil at their center: an embargo, severance by terrorists of "our oil lifeline," and war with an anti-American regime "emboldened by oil wealth."

These worries are exaggerated. The modern oil market is too broad, fluid, and buffered by strategic reserves for an embargo to work. There is no "oil lifeline" for terrorists to cut. And no antagonist will challenge the US militarily just because it makes money on oil.

Exporters need to sell oil as much as importers need to buy it. Those relationships provide more security than can come from fearful policy lurches.

Yet Lugar proposes to raise the mandate for fuel ethanol to a stupendously expensive 100 billion gal/year and severely toughen vehicle fuel-mileage standards.

Meeting elevated miles-per-gallon goals with all that ethanol would be no easy trick. But the senator from corn-heavy Indiana apparently doesn't worry about trivialities like ethanol's energy-content disadvantages, which he didn't bother to factor into his oil "savings" calculations.

"Our energy dependence is perpetuated by a lack of national will and focus," Lugar declared.

Baloney. Energy dependence comes with participation in a global economy. A country can't will it away without sacrificing trade and growth.

A country's aim should be to stay competitive, not choke itself with uneconomic energy.

Politicians should quit trying to scare people.

(Online May 18, 2007; author's e-mail:

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