- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2000

When the Soviet Union collapsed a decade ago, then-Sen. Al Gore didn't have much time to celebrate. He could already see a new enemy, the environmental equivalent of Warsaw Pact troops landing on the Jersey shore: automobiles. Yes, automobiles. "We now know," he wrote in 1992, "that their cumulative impact on the global environment is posing a mortal threat to the security of every nation that is more deadly than that of any military enemy we are ever again likely to confront."

The problem is that cars, like humans, exhale carbon dioxide, and allegedly threaten to contribute to global warming. In his book "Earth in the Balance," Mr. Gore set out to barrage the enemy with a volley of regulations and taxes. He called in particular for a tax on the carbon content of fossil fuels to discourage their use and regulations requiring greater auto fuel efficiency. U.S. lawmakers, somewhat less fearful of the auto invasion, declined his call to arms. But Clinton administration environmental policies, for which Mr. Gore has been only too happy to claim credit, have helped bolster the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and, in effect, given Mr. Gore what Congress would not: substantially higher gas prices.

Those prices have hit $1.50 a gallon around the country in recent weeks as OPEC, the most powerful cartel since the teachers union took over education, slowed oil production a year ago to jack up fuel costs and gouge American consumers. Analysts say the price could hit $2 a gallon by the summer driving season. Such prices could force consumers, few of whom are as wealthy as the Clintons and Gores, to seek out smaller, gas-sipping econoboxes that go further on a tank of gas. That downsizing would put their safety at greater risk in auto accidents a grim barter in blood for oil doesn't seem to bother the vice president or any other environmentalist.

Messrs. Clinton and Gore have helped make all this possible. In 1995, both the U.S. House and Senate passed legislation that would have opened a tiny portion one-hundredth of 1 percent of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. The U.S. Geological Survey has raised estimates of the amount of oil under that barren ground to as many as 16 billion barrels a sum that could replace all the oil coming from Saudi Arabia for 30 years. (You remember Saudi Arabia? The country that used American servicemen and women to hold off Saddam only now to reward this country with extortionate gas prices? The same.)

Local Eskimo groups, who hoped to use money from the project to fund new schools and hospitals, backed the legislation. Workers wanted it for the jobs it would provide. Governments wanted it for the tax revenues it would generate. One might even argue it would be good for the environment since it would make the United States less reliant on the kind of tanker traffic that occasionally results in an Exxon Valdez-like oil spill. But the administration vetoed the bill on environmental grounds anyway. Two years ago, it also withdrew from possible oil and gas leasing more than 80 percent of the outer-continental shelf.

But the administration didn't stop there. It has done its best to block the possible opening of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada in defiance of both science and law threatening the well-being of a significant source of energy in this country. More recently, it has set Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner off on a legal jihad against coal-fired Southern and Midwestern utilities. Their emissions allegedly threaten downwind areas with acid rain, deforestation, Christian fundamentalism and so on. Again, there is no basis in science for such fear-mongering, but the larger point is that Mr. Gore's agenda is already under way. He called for "prospective bans" on old technologies in "Earth in the Balance," and he's doing his best to get them.

The effect is to make the United States that much more dependent on foreign oil. During this administration, this country's imports of foreign oil have risen from 48 percent to 56. And OPEC is now taking it to the bank.

What did Mr. Gore think would happen? In his book, he offered a boutique energy plan, a Strategic Environment Initiative (get the play on Strategic Defense Initiative?) filled with environmentally friendly sources of energy like windmills and solar power. He also called for energy conservation through use of mass transit and long-lasting light bulbs. Alas, windmills have turned out to be much more efficient at killing endangered species and other birds who blunder into them than producing power, and most people have discovered that mass transit, even when it's running, isn't terribly convenient. Perhaps that's why the vice president and other high-ranking officials tend to make their way around Washington in sport-utility vehicles rather than Metro.

Most people wouldn't mind the hypocrisy, but when administration policies make it more expensive for mere citizens to get around as easily as politicians, they may not be so appreciative. The next time they fill up on $1.50 a gallon gas, they should be sure to thank Mr. Gore. OPEC certainly is.

E-mail: smithk@twtmail.com

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