Energy Policy astray.(COMMENTARY)

Article excerpt


Whether Americans will continue to enjoy abundant supplies of affordable energy in coming decades depends on negotiations in a House-Senate conference committee that will likely climax in the next fortnight. A serious policy debate will not determine the outcome. Instead, it all hinges on whether White House officials are so eager to get an energy bill - any energy bill - that they will cave in to the demands of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

The stakes are so high because the House- and Senate-passed versions of the energy bill, H. R. 4, could not be more different. The House bill actually contains, admittedly amongst a lot of wasteful federal spending, measures that will help to increase energy supplies and to encourage the huge private capital investments necessary to rebuild America's aging, inadequate energy supply infrastructure. The Senate's energy bill is really an anti-energy bill. Nearly every provision creates a new government office, program or regulation designed to raise energy prices, force down energy use, or lay the groundwork for implementing the Kyoto global warming treaty.

The House bill would, for example, get rid of a number of regulatory bottlenecks that stymie construction of needed new pipelines and transmission lines. It also would allow oil and gas exploration on 2,000 acres of the coastal plain of the 19-million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, which the U. S. Geological Survey estimates contains between 5.7 billion and 16 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil. Sixteen billion barrels is equivalent to 30 years of imports from Saudi Arabia, our largest foreign supplier.

On the other hand, the Senate version, which was written not by the Energy Committee but by Majority Leader Daschle, would raise significantly both gasoline and electricity prices. It mandates much higher use of ethanol in gasoline. Ethanol is roughly twice as expensive as petroleum-based fuels. It would take 16 million acres planted to corn, an area larger than West Virginia, to produce the 5 billion gallons of ethanol a year required by the Senate bill, according to government estimates.

The Senate bill would also require privately owned utilities to get 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, not including hydropower, by 2020. One renewable source, wind power, has been getting cheaper, but is still considerably more expensive than natural gas or coal-fired power plants and is undependable because the wind doesn't blow on demand. …