Unfortunately for anyone who actually cares about the environment, the Bush Administration has been a catastrophic failure. Bush has made it clear that he places his allegiance with irresponsible companies, his priorities with top-side economic growth and protectionism and is willing to find as many ethically-challenged "scientists" as he can to back his environmentally-unfriendly stances.
Fortunately for the country (and the rest of the planet), there is another major political party in the U.S. and it occasionally shakes off its apathy and gets down to the business of good government.
Democrats launched a plan on Monday for energy independence by 2020 that seeks to relieve historically high oil and gas prices by cutting reliance on foreign sources of energy.
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid Pennsylvania's Gov. Ed Rendell said greater use of renewable energy, mass transit and domestic fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel could cut oil and gas imports. A plan they unveiled on Monday is called Energy Independence 2020.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I am not the biggest fan of either Hillary Clinton or Harry Reid, though I think Reid's done an excellent job of leading the Democrats in the Senate. Hillary Clinton is far too conservative for my taste and Reid's anti-choice stance is very troubling. One of the biggest differences between liberals and conservatives is that liberals don't have the same "cult of personality" type of affection for our elected officials. Conservatives tend to support their party no matter what, while liberals tend to be much more critical of those claiming to represent our causes.
That caveat out of the way, I have to say I am very happy to see this step taken by Clinton, Reid and Rendell. It's become clear that the Republicans are not serious about a better energy future. They continue to cling to the old, tired ideal of increasing crude oil supply to meet energy demands. The reality is that there is no supply-side solution to our energy issues. Any policy which ignores that reality is really just corporate welfare for the oil industry and not a serious attempt to address U.S. energy needs.
For those on the Right who claim that "Democrats have no plans", well, take a good look because this is a plan. Drilling in ANWR and giving the very profitable oil industry more tax breaks isn't a plan, it's payola. Gutting environmental regulations and thumbing one's nose at the Kyoto Agreement is not a plan, it's corporate protectionism for wealthy Republican supporters. On most issues, Bush's "plans" have either been rewards to his wealthy supporters or ideological "crusades" that have helped no one. In the midst of these failures (Social Security reform, immigration reform, the War in Iraq), dissatisfied conservatives, unwilling to set aside their unconditional love for their Fearless Leader, vilify the Democrats for not making better policy to counter Bush's failures.
When it comes to issues like foreign policy or public welfare, it's good that the Democrats have offered no comprehensive plans to counter Bush's initiatives. The American people elected a Republican Congress and a Republican President and it's only fitting that those who voted thus should get the poor governance they deserve. After all, it's not as though the Republican party pushes its platform on the sly. Plus, it reminds those of good sense who stayed home on election day 2004 of just why their vote matters. On the other hand, given that energy policy is a good, bi-partisan issue and given that it's almost 2006, this plan is a welcome gift from a Democratic party that has, frankly, seemed out to lunch much of the last 5 years.
Plus, this plan comes none too soon, as energy costs continue to rise.
Last week homeowners suffered record prices for natural gas as a nationwide cold spike pushed the heating and cooking fuel to above $15 per million British thermal units. Analysts say low temperatures through December could keep a fire under prices.
U.S. oil hit a record over $70 a barrel this summer. They have since fallen as supplies swelled but prices rose above $60 on Monday as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries paved the way for a cut in output early next year.
It certainly takes no expert on the commodities markets to realize that a cut in production by OPEC means only one thing for oil prices: a quick ascension. Further, the oil industry at large has demonstrated repeatedly that they are quite adept at using public impressions to their greatest profitability. If the public believes that oil is going to increase in price, for whatever reason, the oil industry will certainly be willing to oblige that concern. While I would argue that higher prices for fossil fuels are an appropriate way to encourage conservation, I also believe those higher prices should come through taxation, which can redistribute the revenue to better help society. Record profits for the oil industry are certainly not helping the United States, particularly when such profits come out of the pocket of those least able to absorb the sticker shock.
Weaning our country off of its addiction to oil, especially foreign oil, needs to be one of the foremost public policy goals of the federal government going forward. Too many years of cheap oil have left the United States with an infrastructure that grossly over-consumes and we need a healthier energy diet for the future. There is no part of our society that doesn't benefit from better energy policy, be it the economy, the environment or public health. Trusting our energy future to a President and a political party that believes the world may end soon in a sea of Biblical blood and fire is just plain foolish. We need a positive social policy coupled with good science to lead us out of the dark wilderness of energy dependence and the plan proposed by Reid, Clinton and Rendell is a good start.