President Bush and his allies in Congress continue to give us the same recycled rhetoric and disastrous energy policies that they have pushed for the past seven years. Fortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has offered a sensible plan that will actually protect consumers, put America on the path toward a clean energy future and finally put the brakes on the taxpayer-funded giveaways that have been helping fuel Big Oil's record profits.
The bill the Senate leadership introduced, the Consumer-First Energy Act of 2008, will begin to offer consumers hope of real relief from their growing pain at the pump. This bill offers senators the chance to stop writing a blank check to Big Oil and begin to help their constituents. While nothing can bring down gas prices immediately, this legislation will take clear steps to address problems in the market and hasten the process of shifting our priorities toward long-term solutions.
It's time for wind farms, not windfalls. Right now, Big Oil has consumers over a barrel and another fiscal quarter of tens of billions of dollars in profits. This bill will finally shift money from giveaways to polluters to places where it will actually do some good by investing it in clean, renewable energy.
Two years ago Bush said America was addicted to oil, but last week he complained that we just need a bigger fix. The disastrous policies of his administration have allowed the addiction to grow and energy prices to skyrocket.
We were also greeted by the truly ugly last week when Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., introduced S2958, the American Energy Production Act of 2008 (Domestic Energy Production Act, or DEPA). This bill is a business-as-usual package of some of the worst possible energy proposals out there. It calls for more domestic drilling, including the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drills. Drilling in our treasured wild lands won't do anything to ease pain at the pump or create energy independence. Even at peak production, which could take 20 years, the refuge would produce roughly one year's supply of oil. Even the Bush administration admits that the oil would probably only lower gas prices 1 cent in some two decades' time.
DEPA would merely feed our addiction to oil instead of investing in the clean energy solutions we need. As Sen. Reid said in a release last week, "Americans consume 25 percent of the world's produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3 percent of the world's proven oil reserves." The math simply doesn't add up.
According to the Department of the Interior, there are 45.5 million acres of federal onshore lands currently leased by the oil and gas industry, though only 21 percent of offshore leases are in production. Since Bush came into office, oil companies have allowed refinery utilization and capacity to fall by 4 percent. Oil companies have derided the administration's plans for new refineries. Keeping the gasoline supply tight benefits Big Oil's bottom line, and they have no interest in significantly expanding refining capacity.
The Republican DEPA Act also calls for fuels derived from so-called "clean" coal and other dirty and destructive unconventional sources. There is no such thing as clean coal. The Carter administration's liquid coal program, the Synfuels Corporation, did nothing to solve our energy problems and cost taxpayers billions before it went bust.The honest answer to our oil problem is to use less of it. That means better fuel efficiency, more clean, renewable energy, and dramatic improvements in energy efficiency. Instead of the failed policies of the past, it's time to break our addiction to fossil fuels by shifting our priorities and our policies toward creating the clean energy economy. A serious national commitment to renewable energy will put our economy back on the path to prosperity.
Kristina Johnson is the associate press secretary of the Sierra Club.