Page Two: Dead Dinosaurs

New sources, new policies provide our only legitimate shot at energy independence

Page Two
"I lived with them on Montague Street

In a basement down the stairs,

There was music in the cafes at night

And revolution in the air.

Then he started into dealing with slaves

And something inside of him died."

– Bob Dylan, "Tangled Up in Blue"

"But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You're gonna have to serve somebody,

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody."

– Bob Dylan, "Gotta Serve Somebody"

Abraham Lincoln famously said, "You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." Lincoln, of course, had never met the current Bush administration. It's not that their accomplishments contradict that statement but that the goal, at least, seems to be fooling all the people all the time.

Looking at this goal, one almost has to admire the assured arrogance of the Bush right. Even though hard-liners are proven wrong again and again, in no way have they let this track record deter them, slow them down, or even temper their contempt for others' points of view.

After the invasion of Afghanistan, many in the liberal and anti-war communities argued that before tackling another foreign adventure we should first stabilize Afghanistan, repairing and expanding infrastructure, or else the Taliban would return. We were assured that the need to invade Iraq was too pressing to bother with Afghanistan and that the people there were so grateful to the United States that worrying about the then-defeated Taliban was foolish, bleeding-heart, liberal myopia.

What happened first is that some significant percentage of the world's heroin traffic began to come from Afghanistan. Then the Taliban returned. Rather than lessening, the fighting there has intensified.

Obviously, the anti-war and progressive communities argued against invading Iraq. If nothing else, toppling a sitting government without either planning for the transition or having a new government ready to go was a recipe for disaster. The U.N. sanctions, though by no means impenetrable, were still effective. Finally, if Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, there was no evidence he was going to use them.

Dismissed as communists and cowards, attacked as appeasers and anti-American fanatics, we were assured that the invasion would be swift, we'd be welcomed as heroes, and we would be able to leave the country relatively soon after. Five years into this, we all know what has happened. Obviously, the sanctions had some impact, given that there was no Iraqi air force and the military was unequipped. No weapons of mass destruction were found.

When it comes to Guantánamo Bay, the right-wing projection is that progressives who oppose this kind of imprisonment and torture just love the terrorists – that we want to hold their hands, treating them with kid gloves, determined to get them more rights than even most Americans have. This is silly. The problem is that even our government has no idea how many of these prisoners are guilty and how many innocent. If we can do this to our prisoners of war, we've abdicated any moral authority with which to protest other countries' treating our soldiers in the same way.

Now, those who bray that we have to fight in Iraq to stop the Islamic fascists are really missing the point. I have no affection for terrorists and feel comfortable when our government eliminates same. But claiming the Iraq war is a fight to the death with the terrorists is simply ignorant. Whether we "win" or "lose" in Iraq, we all will be dealing with Islamic terrorists for years to come. They are not defined geographically, nor are they a unified, coherent army that can be defeated in battle. They are individuals and cells spread throughout the world.

Sad to say, in so many ways the anti-American forces in Iraq have already won. The so-called "surge" was simply a strategic retreat and consolidation, adding more troops to defend less area. The most powerful military power in the history of the world is being fought to a standstill by renegade guerillas. This is their victory and our defeat.

When it came to the Bush administration's tax cuts for the richest Americans, those opposed were accused of waging a class war. We were told that returning so much money to the wealthy would spur an economic boom that would be so flush that the lost revenue would be made up in volume. Well, that never happened. Wisely, the administration would offer the most extreme projections of how much debt there would be as each annual budget was considered. Then they would declare that they were being thrifty, having shaved the imbalance by 50%. Thus it could be claimed that, instead of a projected $400 billion debt, for example, we had really only accrued another $200 billion. This, of course, doesn't include the enormous costs associated with Iraq.

Clearly I'm not an economist, but it seems the enormous and growing debt would be at least one of the major factors in destabilizing the dollar. Cutting taxes is one thing. Cutting them for the very richest Americans quite another. This class has the resources and access to easily invest money outside the country or stash it in gold. The Bush administration cut the inheritance tax, capital gains from dividends, and income tax. Whenever this subject comes up, right-wing pundits cry for those poor widows and orphans whose only source of income is dividends and claim that this is tantamount to stealing their money. A share of stock annually pays a very small dividend. In order to be generating enough income from stock dividends to live on, one must own hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars' worth.

The poster children of the anti-inheritance-tax campaign, a farmer and a small-business owner, both turned out to not have estates big enough for the inheritance tax to apply. The campaign was funded by multimillionaires and multibillionaires.

Okay, I could be accused of trying to redistribute wealth by getting rid of some of the outrageous tax cuts. (Using the accusatory term "redistributing wealth," as an aside, is another inspired Republican semantic tactic to cast their assault on the U.S. budget as somehow not only constitutionally pure but in sync with the ideals that define this country.)

Except, under Bush, this was accompanied by expanding government and budgetary elephantiasis. Bush vetoed only one bill during the six years that Republicans dominated Congress and discovered fiscal responsibility and sensible spending only when the Democrats came into the majority.

The Bush administration's energy policies have been pathetic. Here again, President Bush demonstrates a frat-boy ethos and upper-class arrogance that still surprises. As he allowed unchecked federal spending and invaded Iraq, his energy policies were business-as-usual. He cut federal funds for developing alternative energy sources, concentrated on ethanol as "the alternative," and resisted efforts to legislate higher fuel-efficiency standards. Now that the horses have fled the barn, the doors locked behind them, and the building burned down, Bush stands in the ruins addressing the energy issues he avoided for his first term and half his second. It is no surprise that his "solution" is drilling in the U.S., ethanol, and Americans voluntarily cutting back on their driving.

Now we come to the campaign for expanded drilling offshore, in Alaska, and anywhere else in the U.S. there is oil, as a necessary step to "energy independence." Again, the progressives and environmentalists who oppose the drilling are scoffed at as being utopian idealists who love nature more than civilization and have no sense of the real world.

Below I'm quoting from one blog posting and a letter sent to the Chronicle. As I've often criticized quoting single or dual sources as offering any kind of truth, I did research on this topic. In general, these numbers don't seem out of line with projections I've read in any number of places. These guys just say it so well that I found myself weakly paraphrasing them. So I decided to go with the quotations. The fact that they are quotes from sources does not validate them; that the information is sound does (I'm reluctant to include the authors' names and contact information as I didn't clear this with them).

"Global Oil Consumption in 2008: 87 million barrels a day. Around 31 billion per year.

"TOTAL projected untapped U.S. oil reserves (according to U.S. Dept. of Interior): Around 49 billion.

"Estimated yearly output from untapped reserves (projected over 50 year life-span of wells): Around 1 billion barrels per year.

"Estimated global demand for oil in 2012 (earliest estimate of time required to bring untapped reserves to market): 95.8 million barrels a day, 35 billion year.

"1/35th of current price of gasoline (3.98): 12 cents.

"Projected price of gasoline in 2012* (based on $2.25 per litre): $8.53 per gallon.

"Number of oil spills costing more than $1 million in American waters since 1990 (according to U.S. Government Accounting Office): 51.

"Economic impact of beach tourism (Florida only): $39 billion per year.

"* Untapped production included in estimates."

Estimates are that it will take between 10 and 20 years before the new drilling feeds significant amounts of oil to the lower 48. The savings are projected to be between 10 and 15 cents a gallon.

When the Alaska oil pipeline was built three decades ago, some of the same arguments were used to justify it. Much of the oil that traveled that pipeline ended up being sold to Japan because that was more economical.

From an e-mail: "A report issued by the Energy Information Administration said that if Congress gave the go-ahead, drilling went smoothly and peak production was reached on schedule by around 2025, the result would be that the U.S. could import 66 percent of its oil from abroad, rather than 70 percent. These figures indicate that ANWR drilling would not significantly relieve our dependence on foreign oil. ...

"We're told by the Republicans that environmentalists have prevented new refineries from being built. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has testified that, in the last 25 years, it has received only one application to build a new refinery. The Republicans also tell us that the EPA stymies plant expansion and modification. In fact, CEOs for BP, Shell and Conoco all testified to Congress in 2006 that environmental requirements have not blocked a single planned refinery expansion. In fact, EPA administrator Carol Browner testified to Congress in 2000 that about half the permit modifications for refineries were issued within five months and that most of the others were issued within a year. Oil execs have testified before Congress that existing plants are able to greatly increase their output, should that become desirable. But scarcity means profits for Big Oil, so don't look for increased refinery production any time soon. Indeed, in this time of supposed scarcity, the United States is awash with excess crude oil at a time of record high crude oil prices. U.S. commercial inventories of crude oil stand at 348 million barrels – the highest level since May 1998." (Sources cited in the e-mail are listed at the bottom of this column.)

Once again, there is the banging of the drums, the blowing of the horns, and the blaming of leftists, Democrats, and progressives. Once again, certain politicians and political pundits have so much contempt for the American public that they pander to them by lying, by claiming we need all this drilling to be energy independent.

The only legitimate shot at energy independence is developing alternative energy sources. All drilling is going to do is make a relatively small group of companies and people an awful lot of money.

Finally, my argument on this is not from an environmental point of view. In the past, we've seen the citizenry of this country champion fuel economy, cutting back their own consumption only to return to their wasteful ways when they perceive the crisis as passed. Less than two years ago, SUV and Hummer owners were scoffing at the concerns of energy-conscious environmentalists.

Oil is an organic substance found underneath the earth's surface. There is a finite amount of oil in the world. In the name of short-term fuel availability and price relief, many want this country to begin drilling wherever there is oil. As stated above, it will take at least a decade for this oil to have an impact on the marketplace, so there is no short-term relief here. Once this country's oil reserves have been significantly decreased, especially if some reasonable alternative energy sources have been developed, our dependency on imported oil will put this country at a strategic and economic disadvantage. Drilling now is not even a short-term fix but one that, in the long run, has potentially devastating consequences.  

Sources cited in e-mail quoted above:

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energy policy, oil drilling, ANWR, Bush administration, alternative energy

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