- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

The United States continues to commit economic and political suicide by allowing itself to remain dependent on Middle East oil.

This deliberate vulnerability is a political phenomenon, not a consequence of scarce resources or the laws of supply and demand. But you wouldn’t know it from the hot air blowing our way from Washington, as the politicians dillydally, year after year, with national energy policy.

Even the loonies on the conspiratorial left realize our dependence on Persian Gulf oil is nuts. These are the people who claim the war in Iraq was motivated by President Bush’s desire to reward his “friends” in the big oil companies, not by any threat posed by the murderous Saddam Hussein. Of course, for their preposterous argument to make any sense at all, the United States needs to remain hostage to Middle East oil. After all, if we weren’t dependent on the Middle East, the oil companies would have nothing to gain from Iraq.

So let’s make sure we define the problem correctly. The problem is the U.S. scandalous, unnecessary, partially self-imposed dependence on fossil fuels from some of the most unstable, unreliable and unfriendly countries in the world. Many of the other things we define as “problems” — such as the $2-per-gallon we’re now paying for unleaded regular at the filling station — are consequences of this.

Who’s to blame for our continued dependence on foreign energy?

Frankly, we all are, because we’ve allowed some of our political “leaders” to demagogue the energy issue, without holding them accountable.

This has been going on for at least 40 years, during the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

I first noticed the phenomenon during my two terms in Congress. The “environmental movement” was newly arrived on the national scene, and one of its first orders of business was to shut down — and permanently seal up — the hundreds of so-called oil and gas “stripper” wells then operating in the Illinois Basin.

The low-producing wells were economically marginal anyway and were shutting down on their own, since the cost of production often exceeded the price the producers were getting. But it wasn’t necessary to seal the wells and sell the oil rigs for scrap. Yet that’s what we did, and the oil and gas was lost to us forever.

Not long after this first self-inflicted political wound, some of us started urging the United States to explore for oil and gas in other places. Alaska, for example, was a natural — with vast tracts of land and vast untapped reserves.

I was chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Energy at the time. We had the support of the Alaskan governor, Alaska’s two senators, Alaska’s lone representative and the overwhelming support of the Alaskan people.

The environmentalists, however, knew better. So decades later we’re still fighting this fight: with U.S. energy needs on one side and the environmentalists and their political allies on the other.

Back then, foreign oil imports accounted for “just” 37 percent of the annual U.S. total. Today the figure is 57 percent and rising.

In the dangerous world in which we live the politicians just can’t have it both ways.

The central question in the upcoming election is not why we got into Iraq and how we plan to get out of Iraq, but what do candidates George Bush and John Kerry plan to do to end our dangerous dependence on Middle East oil?

President Bush supplied his answer three years ago, with a comprehensive energy plan that supports the development of new technologies, encourages conservation and, yes, calls for exploration and drilling in portions of the energy-rich Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR).

Now it’s time for Sen. Kerry to show his hand. And, frankly, if he doesn’t support the intelligent use of ANWR he’s just playing games. Alternative energy sources should be part of the mix. But even if we could build a veritable city of windmills off the coast of Mr. Kerry’s Massachusetts, we would still be hostage to the oil mullahs of the Middle East. And that’s got to end.

Roger Zion, a former Indiana representative, is chairman of the 60 Plus Association in Arlington.

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