- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

Given the worsening instability in the Middle East, Congress will be shirking on its duty to protect national security if it stalemates on energy policy. Its rule should be "Do it all."
That is, Democrats ought to get over their almost religious attachment to the sanctity of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and permit oil drilling there.
Meanwhile, Republicans should get over their opposition to gasoline taxes and higher fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles. And instead of sneering, they should embrace energy conservation and robust research on renewable energy sources.
The American public will be legitimately furious at Congress and Democrats especially if an interruption in Middle East oil flows causes another energy crisis here.
The past three crises during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1979 Iranian revolution, and Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait blew up suddenly and arguably couldn't have been foreseen.
In the aftermath of lines at gasoline stations and sharp blows to the U.S. economy, various presidents and Congress vowed to develop policies to reduce our dependence on imported oil.
But that dependence has only worsened over time, from 36 percent in the late 1970s, to 56 percent now, to an expected 70 percent by 2020 if nothing is done.
President Bush at least called for a new energy policy before a crisis hit; in fact, before September 11, he reminded everyone how volatile the Middle East is.
In the now-usual legislative pattern of the Bush presidency, House Republicans last year pushed through a variant of his energy plan, with ANWR oil drilling included.
The Senate is now under pressure to follow suit, and if it doesn't, the Democrats who run the chamber will bear the blame in the event of an energy crisis.
After blocking debate last year and being accused in low-blow ads in his home state of keeping Iraq's Saddam Hussein in power Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, has put a Democratic energy bill on the calendar.
The bill, which Republicans attack as having been written "in secret" with no committee hearings, is heavy on energy conservation and support for renewable energy programs and bars drilling in ANWR.
Republicans, aided by the Teamsters union, may have the votes to add an ANWR provision to the bill, but Democrats, including Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, are threatening a filibuster that could block passage of any bill.
A recent Los Angeles Times poll indicates that registered voters now favor oil-and-gas exploration in ANWR by a margin of 49 percent to 43 percent.
The environmental movement, mightily influential among Democrats and holding a virtual veto over Democratic presidential candidates, has elevated ANWR to almost holy ground, making the idea of drilling there seem sacrilegious.
But the fact is, drilling would be permitted in only 1 million of the 17 million acres of the refuge. And within that territory, oil facilities would be allowed to occupy only 2,000 acres under the House bill. Conceivably, the "footprint" could be restricted even further.
According to environmentalist propaganda, ANWR would supply only six months' of our oil needs, couldn't be developed for up to 20 years and would endanger wild caribou herds.
In fact, the six-month figure assumes that ANWR is supplying all U.S. oil. Another way of stating its potential is that it could substitute for current Saudi Arabian supplies to the United States for 30 years.
Moreover, drilling could begin within three to five years, according to energy companies. And there is plenty of evidence that caribou and other wildlife have adapted to oil facilities at Prudhoe Bay and in Canada.
If Saudi Arabia's oil fields were shut down amid a revolution, Democrats and environmentalists would have a hard time answering the charge, "You let the U.S. economy grind to a halt to protect caribou?"
At the same time, Republicans refuse almost as a matter of theology, too to consider higher gasoline taxes and higher fuel-efficiency standards; but both are necessary to encourage energy conservation.
Congress should also enact an "SUV tax" on gas-guzzling vehicles, with the revenue used to help people with lower incomes hurt by the gas tax and to fund energy research.
The country needs more nuclear power and a repository for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nev. and more use of corn-derived ethanol.
There's a fair chance that Mr. Bush's forthcoming effort to topple Iraq's Saddam and pressure Iran could lead to an energy crisis this year.
Members of Congress will not want to face voters without being able to say that they did their best to ensure that the nation is less dependent on Persian Gulf oil in the future.

Morton Kondracke is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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