Kathryn Lopez

The temperature's getting hot, and so is the energy-policy debate. Gas prices are reaching new heights as anyone with a car knows. What are we going to do about it? Apparently, nothing serious.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain has taken out ads on the National Review Online site pushing his silly gas-tax holiday. A gas-tax holiday may be a fun, cheap marketing gimmick, but it's not a solution.

In fact, McCain, like the Democrat he will run against, opposes a real solution: Drilling here.

Unfortunately, it's largely those on the outside looking in who are most passionately advocating that we review our domestic resources. Drilling alone won't do it, but it's a practical start.

Thus far, the debate about accessing those resources closest to home has focused on Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR). Congress ridiculously refuses to green-light the project. I say "ridiculous" because concerns about preserving the vast swaths of nature and the caribou there are not serious: Congress would be giving a go-ahead to oil exploration on 2,000 -- or 0.01 percent -- of ANWR's 19 million acres, which can supply 5 percent of America's oil per year for 12 years, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

"Drill here" has become a mantra on conservative talk radio. As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich puts it: "Drill Here. Drill Now. Pay Less." Gingrich is collecting signatures on a petition that reads, "We, therefore, the undersigned citizens of the United States, petition the U.S. Congress to act immediately to lower gasoline prices by authorizing the exploration of proven energy reserves to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources from unstable countries."

Meanwhile, we hear -- and will likely continue to hear -- sad high-gas-price stories such as that of Nevada's Clark County School District: With a 62 percent budget expenditure increase due largely to the price of gas, the school district has cut its bus route and stops to reduce costs. According to the Department of Transportation, Americans are (predictably) driving less.

It's no wonder that Gallup reports that a majority of Americans support "drilling in U.S. coastal and wilderness areas now off limits." Unlike Congress, where Democratic California Rep. Maxine Waters wants to "socialize" the oil industry, Americans don't blame oil companies for the high prices. According to Gallup, "The number of Americans who blame oil companies for the high price of gasoline has decreased from 34 percent to 20 percent."

But don't expect Congress to pull out its power tools any time soon. Right now, the momentum is with America's Climate Security Act of 2007, a bill sponsored by Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia. According to the Heritage Foundation, the bill "would likely be -- by far -- the most expensive environmental undertaking in history." As Heritage describes it, the Warner-Lieberman Bill "extracts trillions of dollars from the millions of American energy consumers and delivers this wealth to permanently identified classes of recipients, such as tribal groups and preferred technology sectors, while largely circumventing the normal congressional appropriations process."

The legislation is a perilous road with high costs -- costs Americans tell pollsters they don't want to pay. But Congress is poised to go its own way, skipping over simpler, more promising steps that cost less, such as unleashing America's reserves. Instead, we go on with the absurd scene of the president of the United States going to Saudi Arabia with his hands out. America is an entrepreneurial nation with resources. We should not be acting like helpless victims. We should not be punishing energy users and embracing regulation over ingenuity and incentives.

McCain, Lieberman, Warner and everyone else should take a deep breath and listen to Bjorn Lomborg, author of "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming" (Knopf, 2007), who says the legislation before Congress "looks set to be a massive subsidy-fest that would achieve very little for the environment, at great cost." He warns: "Wishful thinking is not sound public policy."

Lomborg says that instead of frenzied regulations and expenditures, "We need the technological solutions that will allow our societies to transition cost-effectively to low-carbon energy by mid-century. McCain could recognize that this is a century-long problem which needs century-long, smart solutions."

In other words -- cool it. Drop the gimmicks. Stop getting freaked out by Al Gore. Let's be smart and think creatively rather than as a conventional pack of frenzied followers.


Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.