Congress follows the Take That! energy approach

June 4, 2007
Welcome to the Take That! approach to energy legislation.

Welcome to the Take That! approach to energy legislation.

The strategy has one advantage. Politicians who apply it never have to learn anything about energy. In fact, the approach works best when lawmakers and their constituents stay wholly ignorant about the subject.

Instead of creating effective and affordable solutions to real and complex problems, the Take That! approach conjures up villains to flail. The drama and simplicity especially appeal to children, young adolescents, and surprisingly many US politicians of more advanced age.

The US Congress has implemented Take That! energy legislation on several fronts recently. A new House energy bill would repeal several provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that tried to fortify US supplies of oil and natural gas.

Take that, oil companies!

Another House bill would make vaguely defined “price-gouging” a criminal offense.

Take that, oil companies!

Lawmakers in a Joint Economic Committee hearing have discussed breaking up major oil and gas companies.

Take that, oil companies!

Yet another House bill would enable the US government to sue the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries for price manipulation.

Take that, OPEC!

See how it works? Take That! energy legislation doesn’t address real problems. For example, investigation after investigation has found no price-gouging by US refiners. The problem doesn’t exist. Claims to the contrary are demonstrably false.

Yet the House sees fit to legislate against it. Doing so presupposes villainy where none exists. While promising action in June on a Senate version of the price-gouging legislation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) deployed the Take That! approach with characteristic aplomb.

“We think anything we do should have some effect on the gluttony of the oil companies,” he said.

The Take That! approach gives political heroes like Reid dragons to slay. After all, political heroes who know nothing about the problems before them need dragons to slay. So they lash out at suppliers of fuels in short supply. To the extent they succeed they’ll make demand ever harder to meet. And prices will rise even more.

So take that, oil consumers! And never forget who did it to you.

(Online May 25, 2007; author’s e-mail: [email protected])