The following editorial appeared in the Miami Herald on Sunday, Aug. 17:
The return of Congress next month, just as the fall election campaign pushes into overdrive, does not augur well for the passage of effective legislation on an issue at the top of the agenda for many voters oil prices. The tendency to do the popular thing instead of the right thing will be intense, as we have already seen in the proposals of the leading presidential candidates. The risk is greatest for states like Florida, whose attractive beaches may be sacrificed for little or no gain.
A few months ago, let us recall, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Hillary Clinton, still in the primary race, were among those who supported a fatuous proposal for a gasoline-tax holiday. This would have promoted the illusion of cheaper energy and encouraged more driving, exactly what isn't needed. Sen. Barack Obama was smart to reject this gimmick, but now he has come up with his own gimmick tapping into the strategic petroleum reserve.
This has been tried before, most recently by President Bush after Hurricane Katrina. It produced a temporary decrease in the price of oil, but not enough to justify tapping into the national reserve. Today, prices already are inching down due to fuel-saving practices by drivers. An artificial, short-lived cut in the price at the pump would do more harm than good by encouraging the public to forgo thrifty driving habits.
Another part of Sen. Obama's energy plan sure to find support in Congress is a move to impose a surtax on oil companies' net profit and use the revenue for a tax rebate to low- and middle-income families. Given the record $11.7 billion in quarterly profits reported by Exxon Mobil last month, the temptation for a "windfall profits" tax will be great.
Instead, why not provide incentives to develop new sources of renewable energy? Of the five largest U.S. oil companies, Exxon spent just one percent of its $41 billion in profits last year on alternative energy sources, and none of the others did much better. Over the long run, this would be more helpful to consumers than a one-shot tax rebate.
Of more concern to Florida, however, is the pressure to lift the moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. This is unlikely to have any practical effect on gasoline prices, but the issue is resonating with voters and being pushed by Sen. McCain and his GOP allies in Congress.
Sadly, Obama seems inclined to give in, though he knows better, in order to take the issue off the table for the rest of the campaign. At the least, any legislation approved by Congress should give Florida a chance to opt out of this unwise project. Real leadership by lawmakers would emphasize that the problem is our addiction to oil, not a lack of drilling off our shores.