- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With the average gallon of gas hovering at $4 and the looming threat that it will end up at $5 a gallon by year’s end, solutions for a typical family’s cash-crunch have become a bit more creative, as the government’s approach has become more convoluted.

As travelers are cutting vacations, metropolitan commuters are rediscovering mass transit and consumers replace their gas-guzzlers with hybrids, Congress and the administration continue to spin their wheels over what “energy” policy will “solve” this so-called crisis. No matter the plan, each one invariably comes at a cost. In fact, some economists argue that part of the current problem is that lawmakers keep replacing one problem with another.

Last week, House Republicans unveiled an energy plan (i.e. problem fixer) called “Real Solutions for American Families.” In their news release, Republicans railed against House Speaker and California Democrat Nancy Pelosi. After all, in 2006 (the year Democrats swept both houses of Congress), it was Mrs. Pelosi who promised “real” energy reform. In her Dec. 5, 2007, Democratic radio address, Mrs. Pelosi declared: “In order to reduce the price at the pump, our legislation increased fuel efficiency standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 … [It] is the first time in 32 years that Congress has raised these standards, known as CAFE … [C]AFE standards will save the average driver $700 to $1,000 each year.”

For two years, Democrats have promised “real” energy reform and “savings” for Americans. Where is the reform? Where are the “savings?” Gas prices have not been reduced; they have gone up 60 percent. Or is Mrs. Pelosi suggesting that we wait until 2020 before those consumer “savings” kick in?

President Bush has championed energy reform since his first campaign for president in 2000. It appeared relief was on the way when Mr. Bush signed a 2005 energy reform bill that touted alternative fuels and “clean” vehicles but completely missed the point. Back then crude oil hit a “record high” of $63 a barrel. Today it stands at $131 a barrel. Now we have cleaner cars and higher gas prices.

What are they all missing? ANWR. The Artic National Wildlife Refuge. It is described as “America’s single largest untapped source of oil” by the Heritage Foundation. Tapping just 1.5 million of the 19 million protected acres of the Arctic Coastal Plain of ANWR to authorize environmentally responsible drilling is the missing link among the solutions to lower energy costs. Economists estimate that it would increase oil production by at least 50 percent.

While both Democrats and Republicans insist that “we need to be less dependent on foreign oil,” their actions amount to lip service. While Mr. Bush can be given credit for making it a campaign initiative, his ability to get such bills passed has been lackluster at best. And finger-pointing doesn’t help.

Recently, House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, wrote an op-ed wagging his finger about a 1995 Republican-led congressional effort that sent then-President Clinton an energy package which included oil and gas exploration that Mr. Clinton vetoed. But where was that same indignation when Republicans led both houses of Congress under President Bush and still failed to pass ANWR legislation?

Now Republicans say they have an “energy plan.” And they do. They have had a plan for eight years in numerous versions with multiple attempts that did not pass even when they controlled both houses of Congress.

Reciting rhetoric about a “Pelosi Premium” is great for TV sound bites, but it doesn’t equate to good policy for the American taxpayer. The “new plan” offers the same cash-incentive, clean-energy policies touted for several years. (And we strongly support many of those policies.)

It is incumbent upon congressional Republicans this presidential election year to exhibit bold leadership. They must mount an aggressive campaign to end the ANWR stalemate and push, without retreat, for the passage of ANWR legislation that the president can sign. Sen. John McCain should be among the chief authors and utilize his power of bipartisan persuasion to bring on board the needed Democratic votes.

We must take immediate action to tap our own domestic energy possibilities.

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