Beltway Bandits

Article excerpt

BELTWAY BANDITS.

Keep Your Eye on the Pump

Forget about the October Surprise and look for a May Surprise. By then the price of oil should be dropping. This will spur a sputtering economy - a $5 reduction per barrel would have the effect of an immediate $30 billion tax cut - and certainly do no harm to George Bush's chances for four more years. That won't be any coincidence, predicts Edwin Rothschild, the energy policy director of Citizen Action, who has been advancing this scenario. Bush, conqueror of Iraq, has a fat chit he can play with those in the Middle East who control the flow, such as Saudi Arabia's honorable King Fahd, who has said of Bush, "A man of this caliber deserves to head the United States another time." Sure, a fall in crude prices would hurt domestic producers, but that might be a price worth paying for the opportunity to spend another term in the White House without any coherent energy policy.

The United States went to war and killed thousands of people (it never bothered to determine just how many), in part for oil. At the time, some wishful thinkers believed this traumatic event would spark a national debate about energy. That never happened. Could a presidential campaign be well suited for that? My colleague Jeffrey Young canvassed the major Democratic candidates to determine what, if any, specific ideas they had about energy policy. The Bob Kerrey, Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown campaigns had little to offer. In a recent speech, Kerrey did advocate an energy strategy that utilizes conservation and alternative sources "for the purpose of achieving trade balance, competitiveness and creating new jobs." Paul Tsongas also cries for more conservation and renewables, as well as higher gas prices and smaller nuclear plants. Doug Wilder's office forwarded his energy plan for Virginia, which urged efficiency and conversion of government cars to alternative fuels. The most visionary response came from Tom Harkin.

The Iowa Senator has produced a paper calling for a "solar hydrogen economy," in which solar energy would be used to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, with the latter becoming a fundamental energy source. A "solar hydrogen economy," he argues, would cause much less environmental damage and would not suffer supply problems. Harkin readily acknowledges that solar energy is not yet cost-competitive with other forms, and there may well be other wrinkles. Let's see if he turns his professed, and unconventional, desire for a radical change into convincing campaign talk.

GATTastrophe

Negotiators in Geneva are hustling to conclude the current round of talks on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade - which, in the name of free trade, may lead to numerous challenges to U.S. environmental, worker safety and food regulations. Already the GATT overseers have entertained grievances from nations that consider such laws to be unfair trade barriers. The best-known case is Mexico's complaint about the U.S. prohibition on the import of tuna caught with methods that kill large numbers of dolphins. A GATT panel bought Mexico's claim, and the Bush Administration has pressured Congress to amend the dolphin law. …