Talking Gas 

The administration's energy policy is dumb and getting dumber.

As a general rule, the more closely a policy is associated with Dick Cheney, the worse it is. Which brings us to energy policy. In the long history of monumentally bad ideas, the Cheney policy is a standout for reasons of both omission and commission. Dumb, dumber and dumbest.

Ponder this: Next year, the administration will phase out the $2,000 tax credit for buying a hybrid vehicle, which gets over 50 miles per gallon, but will leave in place the $25,000 tax write-off for a Hummer, which gets 10 to 12 mpg. That's truly crazy, and that's truly what the whole Cheney energy policy is.

According to the Energy Information Administration in the Department of Energy, last year's energy bill will cost taxpayers at least $31 billion, do nothing about the projected 80 percent increase in America's imports of foreign oil by 2025, and will increase gasoline prices.

The bill is loaded with corporate giveaways and tax breaks for big oil. Meanwhile, Bush's budget cuts funding for renewable energy research.

Now, here's the Catch-22 we get with this administration: It is using the exact language of the bill's critics -- stealing it wholesale and using it to promote its bill. It's our friend Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster who specializes in "framing" issues. (Framing means the same thing as spinning, and in the nonpolitical world it is known as lying.) Luntz put out a memo in January: "Eight Energy Communication Guidelines for 2005" telling Republicans how to talk about energy using language people like.

The Natural Resources Defense Council found a Bush speech on energy on March 9th in Ohio that parrots Luntz's suggestions to a laughable point. Per Luntz's memo, he was talking about "environmentally responsible exploration" and announcing one of his top energy objectives is "to diversify our energy supply by developing alternative sources of energy." Polling shows 70 percent of Americans support a drastic increase in government spending on renewable energy sources.

I'm tired of arguing about whether Bush is so ignorant he doesn't know that he is cutting alternative energy programs and subsidizing oil companies or so fiendishly clever that he knows and doesn't care. In the end, you get wretched policy either way.

The Apollo Project, a sensible outfit dedicated to reducing America's dependence on foreign oil, says 90 percent of Americans support its goal of energy independence. Bracken Hendricks, the executive director, points out that there is "remarkable agreement among many so-called strange bedfellows -- labor and business, environmentalists and evangelicals, governors and generals, urbanites and farmers."

Meanwhile, what we are sticking with is soaring oil prices (ExxonMobil just reported the highest quarterly profit ever -- $8.42 billion -- by an American company) and declining resources. Several oil companies are reporting disappearing reserves. The Chinese and the Indians are buying cars like mad, and the result is going to be an enormous supply crunch, sooner rather than later.

It is possible with existing technology to build a car that gets 500 miles per gallon, but the Bushies won't even raise the fuel efficiency standards for cars coming out now. Conservation is simply the cheapest and most effective way of addressing this problem. If you put a tax on carbon, it would move industry to wind or solar power. Wind power here in Texas is at the tipping point now -- comparably priced. Our health, our environment, our economy, and the globe itself would all benefit from a transition to renewable energy sources. n

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