Success in politics, as in governing, requires getting the big things
right, and President George W. Bush succeeds in getting the big things right
in his sweeping new energy plan. He understands that our energy challenge
lies on the supply side, and he and Vice President Dick Cheney therefore
move decisively on many fronts to free up energy production currently
hamstrung by regulation, taxation and government interference at just about
Bush and Cheney seek to remove barriers to putting new power plants
on-line and strike the right balance between ecological values and surging
energy demand. They understand that energy and the environment don't need to
be at war with each other, whether in the Alaskan wilderness, on the Outer
Continental Shelf or in siting new pipelines and transmission capacity. The
controversy over oil exploration in Alaska concerns only 2,000 acres of a 19
million-acre reserve - about the size of Dulles Airport.
The key is to strike a balance, and for too long the scale has been
weighted against increasing energy output and production. The fact is we are
using energy with infinitely more efficiency than when I went to Congress in
1971, allowing us to do more with less. Per unit of production, we use 74
percent less energy than we would have used at 1972 levels. At the same
time, we're well behind the curve in preparing for the future.
The administration seeks to reverse this trend by removing the obstacles
to energy production while balancing production needs with environmental
concerns. Exploration on public lands, expanding trade in energy, opening up
ownership of transmission lines and spurring technological innovations that
enable us to continue using energy more efficiently all are truly "green"
approaches to the energy problem. So, in a way, is nuclear power, which Bush
wants to revive as a viable source of new production by tackling safety,
disposal and regulatory issues head-on.
The most important aspect of the president's energy plan may be its broad
battery of initiatives that will both increase energy supply and reduce the
energy intensity of each unit of economic growth. Wisely, both Bush and
Cheney stress removing barriers to market forces in advancing these twin
Unfortunately, they also bow to political correctness by adding to the
mix a bunch of subsidies and tax credits, i.e. "incentives" to conserve
energy and produce more energy from what I call "boutique renewables" -
wind, solar, biomass - all of which have failed to demonstrate market
viability despite massive government subsidies since the so-called energy
crises of the 1970s. Even worse, the plan calls for still more "appliance
efficiency standards" that could price labor-saving devices beyond the means
of needy households without producing any tangible benefit.
These gestures to hard-left environmentalists haven't bought the
administration any friends on the left. The New York Times called the
president's proposals "a nod to the conservationists whom Vice President
Cheney has been belittling - the plan does little for efficiency or
renewable energy." The Times, which relies heavily on fossil fuels to
produce its products, calls the whole plan a concession to the fossil fuels
industries: the same industries that have made huge contributions to our
economy and well-being over the years.
The "Left Coasties" at the Times deny we have an energy crisis on our
hands and claim we can conserve our way into energy solvency without
throttling the economy. But if conservation and renewables were the key to
energy abundance, California would be the showplace of the future, not the
national embarrassment it has become where energy policy is concerned. Gov.
Gray Davis may try to shift the blame to Washington all he wants, but no
one's suggesting the rest of the nation emulate California!
As Kim Strassel pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, conservation per
se does absolutely nothing to ease our energy problems. As she puts it,
"Energy consumption hasn't gone down; rather, it has stubbornly risen by an
average of about 1.7 percent a year since the early 1980s, despite the
increasing weight of conservation policies."
Conservation, that is less waste in energy use, is indeed desirable, but
it's a natural consequence of price mechanisms. When costs go up, as they've
been doing lately, people are more prudent in using energy. As well as
providing incentives for exploration and development, markets allocate
capital efficiently while government misallocates costs.
The president has given us a bold and sound energy plan, not a perfect
one. But for now, let's give the administration two thumbs up for resisting
the trend Thomas Jefferson feared where liberty inevitably yields and
government gains ground. To their great credit, Bush and Cheney have chosen
to side with the forces of free markets, free enteprise and free people.
Knowing the history of the 20th century, freedom works!