Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON--Everyone agrees that the United States is far too dependent on imported oil. Liberals say we need to conserve more. Conservatives say we need to produce more. It is the most ridiculous debate on the American political scene. We obviously need to do both. Every barrel added to domestic production and every barrel subtracted from consumption has the equivalent effect of reducing our dependence on unstable and unfriendly foreign producers.

Since the invasion of Kuwait 13 years ago, the U.S. military has been on active patrol in the world's oil patch. With American soldiers at risk securing our oil economy, liberals have to be willing to discomfit a few caribou and allow us to start pumping new oil from Alaska. If we'd listened to their arguments the last time around, we would today be without the million barrels a day we get from the North Slope.

Liberals also need to get over their allergy to the cleanest form of energy, nuclear power. The administration has proposed support for a new generation of safer nuclear reactors. You'd think environmentalists would be enthusiastic. Nuclear energy is remarkably benign: no greenhouse gases or other pollutants strewn in the air, water and your lungs. Of course, like all energy, nuclear has its pollutant--there is no free lunch--but in this case you can find it, concentrate it, put it in box cars and ship it off to some God-forsaken mountain in the desert.

Yes, it will be a hazard to humans or whatever species succeeds us in 10,000 years or so. That is a pity. But we do have more immediate problems. Like today's terrorists, fueled by Saudi and other oil money.

Conservatives, too, will have to give up some cherished positions to encourage reductions in consumption. One of the reasons they have resisted consumption controls is our history of heavy-handed regulatory schemes. Mileage standards (CAFE) on automobile fleets hugely distort the economics of the auto industry and, indeed, helped create the entire sport utility vehicle explosion (an unforeseen consequence of CAFE standards that treated SUVs as trucks and thus subject to less-stringent mileage requirements).

We must reduce oil consumption. The very easiest way to do it is simply to artificially raise the price of oil--i.e., tax it.

Oil is currently selling at about $30 a barrel. Slap, say, a $5 (or $10--the bazaar is open) tax on every imported barrel. And most important, keep the new price--let's say $35--as a floor. The world market price is likely to fall as Iraqi oil comes online, as Venezuela stabilizes, and as Russian and Caspian producers ramp up production.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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