When he was elected, President Bush asked Congress to work with his administration on a national energy strategy to reduce dependence on foreign oil, encourage domestic sources of energy production, and protect our environment.
Unfortunately, energy legislation just passed by the Senate rejected much of what the President requested, instead imposing costly new mandates on companies and consumers, and doing little to relieve our dependence on foreign sources of oil.
Under the direction of Senate Majority Leader Daschle, the Senate energy bill bypassed the customary committee process to ensure that Republicans got as little input as possible on the final product. It is filled with pork barrel projects to aid particular special interests at costs that will be ultimately passed down to consumers. One such provision, for example, mandates the inclusion of corn-based ethanol in gasoline blends. Many opponents fear inclusion of this unnecessary and expensive additive will lead to increases in gas prices of as much as 9 cents a gallon with no tangible benefit to consumers or the environment. Another provision sets an arbitrary mandate on energy producers requiring them to derive 10 percent of their power from so-called renewable resources, or pay a penalty that ultimately will be passed on to their customers.
I am particularly disappointed that development of our oil supplies in a small area in Alaska was blocked by some Senators. Recent events in the Middle East underscore the need to find new sources of oil. In recent weeks, Saddam Hussein has declared an embargo of oil to the United States from Iraq, urging other nations in the region to follow suit. If that had happened, the effects on Americans would be significant. Gas prices would rise, hurting the poor and middle class, and in an extreme case, there could be shortages and gas lines – replicating the difficulties Americans faced in the 1970s. The gradual recovery of the U.S. economy, now under way but fragile, would be seriously threatened.
President Bush believes, as I do, that American consumers should not be held hostage to the irrational demands of Middle Eastern dictators. That is why we both support tapping the vast resource of oil available in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. According to most estimates, recovering oil from ANWR would produce more than 600,000 barrels of oil per day – nearly identical to the amount we are importing from Iraq. The supply in Alaska is so great that we could continuing recovering oil at that rate for more than 40 years!
Unlike many of the people who protest oil recovery efforts in ANWR, I have actually been there. The name itself is unfortunate in this context, since the concept of a "wildlife refuge" evokes an image of a lush, animal-rich habitat that does not in any way match what the ANWR site actually looks like: a cold, barren, flat tundra that is frozen solid for most of the year. In fact, the oil recovery site itself is not large – it is roughly equivalent to the size of Sky Harbor Airport. And that’s out of a refuge totaling 19 million acres.
Development in ANWR will have no significant impact on the environment; less invasive drilling techniques are used, including the construction of ice roads. All vehicles and equipment are transported over these roads, which thaw and disappear in the warmer months. Recall that when oil exploration opened in Prudoe Bay, Alaska, environmental groups quickly predicted environmental catastrophe for area wildlife and indigenous caribou. It is in fact a different story. Back then, caribou herds were at 3,000 head. Today caribou herds number nearly 26,000. They have thrived – even in the presence of oil development.
In fact, oil exploration in the United States is far safer and substantially more environment-friendly than relying on Middle Eastern nations that do little to enforce even basic environmental standards. Yet because exploration is blocked in the Senate, little has been done to reduce Americans’ vulnerability to instability in the Middle East.
The result in the Senate is a bad bill, with few incentives for new production, bloated pork barrel subsidies, and federal mandates that will cost consumers millions. All in all, it is a poor performance – and one I could not support.