- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2008

Neither President Bush nor Congress has acted to appoint members to a commission intended to boost U.S. energy independence in the three years since Congress enacted a law establishing the panel.

During that time, oil prices have more than doubled to $125 per barrel from $60, and the price of a gallon of gasoline has increased from about $2.25 to nearly $4.

White House officials defended the failure to establish the United States Commission on North American Energy Freedom, saying this is a time for action, not commissions.

Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, disagrees.

The commission “would make recommendations for a coordinated and comprehensive North American energy policy that will achieve energy self-sufficiency by 2025 within the three-nation area of Canada, Mexico and the United States,” Mr. Barton said in a July 29 letter to the White House urging the president to take steps toward creating the commission.

The letter was co-signed by Rep. Don Young of Alaska, ranking member of the Committee on Natural Resources, and two other House Republicans.

Whatever the merits were three years ago, the White House said Thursday, the time for a commission has passed. “The president believes that fuel prices have now clearly passed the point where Congress should defer action to a commission,” White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore told The Washington Times. “The president moved recently to clear away executive branch barriers to accessing our offshore oil and gas resources. Urgency requires that Congress take similarly decisive action.”

The 2005 bipartisan Energy Policy Act, which passed the House by a vote of 275-156 with 75 Democratic approvals and the Senate by a 74-26 vote with 25 Democrats in favor, authorized the president to appoint 16 members to the bipartisan commission. But the commission was never created.

The legislation required the commission to hold its first meeting within 30 days after all 16 members were appointed. The law required the commission to submit a final report by October 2006 detailing its findings and recommendations regarding North American energy independence. Ninety days later, the president was to submit to Congress proposals to implement or respond to the commission’s findings.

The Senate majority leader and House speaker, both Republicans at the time, each would nominate eight people. The president, who independently would appoint four members, including the chairman, would select four nominees from each list. Each of the minority leaders in Congress, both Democrats at the time, could nominate four members, two of whom the president would appoint.

“The administration did not act,” said a Republican House aide. “The administration seemed to be aware of the commission, but didn’t consider it a front-burner issue.

“The president has to take the initiative,” he said.

J. Dennis Hastert, the Illinois Republican who was House speaker, “submitted his list of eight nominees to the White House,” said Dan Kish, who was staff director for the House Resources Committee at the time.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, on Wednesday encouraging him to join Mr. Reid in helping to organize a bipartisan summit to develop legislation that begins to solve the energy crisis. Mr. Reid’s office could not determine whether he had submitted his list of commission nominees in 2005. Nor could the office for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, who was minority leader at the time. The Republican staff of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee could not answer on behalf of former Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, who was majority leader in 2005.

In his letter to the president, Mr. Barton cited House findings enumerating more than 4 trillion barrels of oil as part of North America’s energy base, including 2 trillion barrels of oil shale in the United States and 1.7 trillion barrels of oil sands in Alberta, each of which was “believed capable of eventually producing 10 million barrels per day for more than 100 years.”

The United States has about 21 billion barrels of proved conventional oil reserves, according to Oil and Gas Journal. Canada has 179 billion barrels of proved reserves, the vast majority of which are unconventional oil sands.

“Significant hurdles stand in the way of achieving energy self-sufficiency by 2025,” said Mark Kibbe of the American Petroleum Institute.

“The energy resources [cited in the Barton letter] technically exist. How quickly technology can be developed and used” to exploit these resources is the critical question, Mr. Kibbe said. “If we get a breakthrough in the technology available to exploit oil shale, producing 10 million barrels a day is not unimaginable.”

Beyond the technological hurdles, Mr. Kibbe said, oil shale faces political constraints that preclude its exploitation.

The exploitation of oil shale resources “largely depends on the government’s commitment to it,” said Mr. Kish. For more than 20 years, “official government policy has been to import more oil and produce less.”

In 1985, the United States produced 10.6 million barrels per day and imported 5.1 million barrels, according to the Energy Information Administration. In 2007, the United States produced 6.9 million barrels per day and imported 13.4 million, EIA data show.

“North America has enormous amounts of energy resources,” Mr. Kish argued, “and we could tell the world to take a hike if we so chose.”

“This commission is a foolish idea,” Jerry Taylor of the libertarian Cato Institute told The Times. “The commission would be economically counterproductive were it ever to achieve its ends, which, happily, it will not,” he said.

“Trade is a good thing because it allows us to buy goods at cheaper prices,” Mr. Taylor said.

Because the price of oil is determined in the global market, “self-sufficiency is no hedge against events overseas. Self-sufficiency in energy is not a worthy goal,” he argued, because “the extent to which it occurs means that we would be paying higher energy prices, not lower.”

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