Debra J. Saunders

This week, American truckers staged protests against the rising cost of diesel fuel while members of the U.S. House of Representatives competed to see who could do the best job of hectoring oil-company executives -- on-camera -- about the high price of gasoline.

Also this week, the House voted to double the size of two national marine sanctuaries off of the Northern California coast, which now are permanently protected from offshore-oil drilling. This is the same House that has supported a ban on new offshore drilling off the entire California coast and opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

It's a mystery of modern life that educated voters can grouse about the high price of gasoline, yet see no nexus between rising prices and dwindling domestic supply.

Make that: Rising prices, rising global demand and dwindling domestic supply. The left argues that because of President Bush, America has a poor image abroad. Well, it can't help when Bush goes to the 13-nation Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and asks OPEC to boost oil production, as he did in January -- when back home Washington keeps passing measures to block domestic oil drilling.

"If Americans want more oil and more stable (gasoline) prices, (then) we need to look here at home," noted Jeff Eshelman, spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton defended the House's vote on the marine sanctuaries by noting that they are home to important fisheries and that the amount of oil from the sanctuaries is so modest it would not affect the price at the pump.

Hamilton argued that the solution to high gas prices is more efficient cars and energy use.

Got it.

But when I asked Hamilton where it is OK to drill in California, he could only accept pumping "existing" oil fields. No new drilling. Anywhere.

While the Sierra Club no longer calls for high European-style gasoline taxes to reduce energy consumption, that's where its no-new-drilling policies lead -- to European-style gas prices. Existing oil wells are becoming depleted and, because most people aren't walking to work, more oil has to come from somewhere -- or prices will continue to rise. While the greenies tout new technologies as the answer, that's a someday solution. It's not a real solution for today.

Meanwhile, demand grows. Domestic oil production is declining. And, Oliver Twist-like, Bush has to ask OPEC to give the U.S. some more, please.

If Americans really want to protect the planet, then they should want to expand drilling in America -- better yet, in California -- where they know operations will be highly regulated.

"You can have the toughest standards, but if it's an inappropriate place to drill and develop, you shouldn't do it," Hamilton responded. Maybe Hamilton's Sierra Club is right about these two sanctuaries. But in a state that consumes millions more gallons of gas than it produces, surely there is somewhere where it makes sense to start drilling.

In fact, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could bid new state offshore oil leases to help close the expected $16 billion state budget deficit. It beats raising taxes and grousing about climbing gas prices without doing anything to help.

It's odd how the global-warming crowd styles itself as the fact-based side on environmental arguments. Yet for years, the greenies have argued that they can suppress supply, pass magic-wand regulations to develop imaginative technology -- and their policies will be great for the economy and create jobs. And then House Democrats blame everyone else for high gas prices -- as if they had nothing to do with it.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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