WASHINGTON -- Democrats, seething at the injustice of gasoline prices, have sprung to the aid of embattled motorists. So resolute are Democrats about defending the downtrodden, they are undeterred by the fact that motorists, not acting like people trodden upon, are driving more than ever. Gasoline consumption has increased 2.14 percent during the last year.
That probably is explained by the inconvenient (to the Democrats' narrative) truth that Speaker Nancy Pelosi was characteristically overwrought when she said that Democrats intend to do this and that because the price of gasoline recently ``set a record'' at $3.07 a gallon. In real (inflation-adjusted) rather than nominal dollars, $3.07 is less than gasoline cost in 1981.
Pelosi vowed, as politicians have been doing since President Nixon set the fashion, to achieve ``energy independence.'' Such vows are, as Soviet grain production quotas used to be, irrational reflexes that no serious person takes seriously. Pelosi baldly asserts that ``energy independence is essential to reducing the price at the pump,'' but does not say how.
As Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute notes, there is no yearning for national self-sufficiency concerning other essential goods, such as food, automobiles, airplanes or medicines. Are Democrats worried about security of oil supplies? In some ways, Hayward says, America's energy supply is more secure than it was in the 1970s, partly because ``since 1975, energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product has fallen 48 percent.'' Furthermore, ``oil represents a shrinking share of total U.S. energy consumption -- from 44 percent in 1970 to 40 percent in 2005.'' The oil America consumes -- only one-eighth of which comes from the Middle East -- is used almost entirely in transportation, and accounts for about 40 percent of energy uses. Half of America's electricity is generated by coal, of which America has a huge abundance.
America has about 22 billion barrels of ``proven'' oil reserves, defined as ``reasonably certain to be recoverable in future years under existing economic and operating conditions.'' In addition, there are an estimated 112 billion barrels that could be recovered with existing drilling and production technology. Make that, with existing drilling and production technology -- and fewer Democrats like Pelosi who, while promising energy independence, are opposed to any drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and much drilling offshore, where 87 billion of the 112 billion barrels are located, as is much of the estimated 656 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas.