- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2000

One of the more puzzling aspects of George W. Bush's campaign has been his apparent reluctance to

attack Al Gore on energy policy. This is odd because Mr. Bush and his running mate Dick Cheney probably know more about the oil industry than any other presidential ticket in history. Furthermore, the growing world oil crisis plays to their strength in foreign policy. And it's not as though there isn't plenty to criticize.

Mr. Bush could be talking about the Clinton-Gore administration's policy of prohibiting exploration on oil-rich land in Alaska. In particular, it opposes oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because it deems the threat to land and wildlife as too great. However, environmentalists made the same argument more than 20 years ago about the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and drilling in the small area that now produces oil near Prudhoe Bay. But in the years since, every claim about how the land and animals would suffer has proven false.

I myself have been to Prudhoe Bay and observed the drilling operations and surrounding land. I went there on a government-sponsored trip in 1987, while I was a member of the White House staff. Among other things, I saw a tunnel that had to be built under the causeway from land to the drilling platform, which was not more than 200 yards away. Environmentalists said the fish swimming along the shoreline were too stupid to swim the short distance around the platform, so a tunnel was needed.

They also said that the tunnel had to be lit, because the fish were too stupid to find their way through it otherwise. But other environmentalists said that the fish would be frightened by the light. So, at great expense, the oil companies had to build two tunnels, one lit and one dark, and hire a biologist to study the fish to make sure that they were not being inconvenienced.

Not surprisingly, after many years of study, the biologist found the fish were not at all bothered by the causeway and easily swam around it. And those that used the tunnel were indifferent as to whether it was light or dark. Nevertheless, a biologist remains on the oil company payroll to permanently monitor the situation.

Another environmentalist bugaboo was that caribou would be too stupid or fearful to walk under the pipeline. (The pipeline must be elevated to keep it from melting into the permafrost.) So, costly bridges had to be built over the pipeline for them. Even so, many environmentalists warned that the caribou would be spooked by the pipeline and would refuse to go near it anyway.

Well, it turns out, as any normal person could have predicted, that the caribou walk under the pipeline without the slightest evidence of concern. Indeed, they like the pipeline because it gives them shelter from the harsh summer sun and respite from the horseflies that bedevil them.

Similarly, spurious arguments continue to be used to prevent further exploration of Alaska's coastal plain, despite strong evidence that at least 4 billion barrels of oil lie under it. And despite the excellent environmental record of the companies currently producing oil in Alaska, the Clinton-Gore administration still keeps raising the same concerns that more than two decades of experience have decisively refuted.

The administration's absolute opposition to oil drilling in our most promising domestic supply source is just the tip of the iceberg. Among its other anti-energy policies are these:

• Refineries: According to many analysts, the recent gasoline price spike is less due to lack of crude oil than to inadequate refining capacity. There has not been a single new refinery built in the United States during the Clinton-Gore years. So, even if the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries made more oil available, there wouldn't be any way to make gasoline or heating oil out of it.

The failure to build new refineries is not due to oil companies' unwillingness to do so, but entirely due to the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA makes it just about impossible to even expand an existing refinery's capacity. So building a new one is clearly out of the question. As a consequence, the U.S. increasingly must not only import oil, but distilled products such as gasoline and home heating oil, as well.

• Pipelines: Clinton-Gore administration policies also make it almost impossible to build pipelines that deliver oil and natural gas. For some years, for example, a pipeline has been planned to bring cheap, abundant Canadian natural gas to the Northeast United States. It has never been built, leaving those living in that area dependent solely on expensive electricity and home heating oil.

• Foreign policy: According to a May 9 report on WorldNetDaily.com by Charles Smith, the Clinton-Gore administration actually instigated the current oil price spike. OPEC oil ministers who visited Capitol Hill earlier this year said that the administration wanted higher oil prices in order to help oil-producers Russia, Indonesia, Mexico and Iran pay their debts to American banks. The administration reportedly also wanted to make it easier for Middle East oil producers to buy new weapons from the United States. Mr. Smith says that since his story appeared, no one from the administration has offered any refutation of it.

Whether the Clinton-Gore administration caused the oil price rise or not, there is no doubt it has been extremely slow in using its diplomatic leverage to encourage more oil production from our allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, whom we rescued during the Gulf war. Consequently, one of the biggest winners from the price spike has been Iraq, which is OPEC's marginal producer. As a result, Saddam Hussein is now in the strongest position he has been in since before the Gulf war.

I do not know why Mr. Bush has been so reticent about raising these issues. Perhaps he feels some of them could be traced back to his father's policies, or he may feel it is more important to stay "on message" with his mantra of education, taxes, Social Security and national defense. Still, it seems to me a great opportunity to draw blood from Al Gore is being missed.

Bruce Bartlett is senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis and a nationally syndicated columnist.



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