Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The economy is stagnant, unemployment is climbing, families can’t pay their bills. Politicians insist we must prime the pump, increase unemployment benefits, reduce interest rates.

But every one of these puny shots of economic adrenaline is counteracted by toxic policies that drive up prices, cause layoffs and put families on energy welfare.

Oil, gas, coal and other resources on America’s citizen-owned public lands could meet our energy needs for centuries. Developing these resources — with full regard for ecological values — would generate jobs, economic growth and tax revenues, stabilize energy prices, and reduce our need to buy oil from unfriendly countries.

Onshore and offshore public lands hold enough oil to produce gasoline for 60 million cars and fuel oil for 25 million homes for 60 years. They hold enough natural gas to heat 60 million homes for 160 years — plus centuries of uranium and coal.

But energy-killer legislators, regulators and courts have made most of them unavailable to the workers and families who own them.

The “energy” legislation President Bush just signed doesn’t foster the production of a single drop of oil, whiff of natural gas, or kilowatt of new coal or nuclear power. No wonder ministers of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries rejected his plea to boost oil production.

The only new energy comes from a mandate to increase ethanol production to 35 billion gallons a year — fivefold what we produced last year from corn grown on an area the size of Indiana, using 42 billion gallons of water and 5 billion gallons of petroleum. This is not sustainable.

Because they keep our energy locked up, these actions mean every barrel of oil “saved” is offset by reserves we use up and don’t replace. They create a huge energy gap between what we need — and what politicians let us have. Between real energy from fossil fuel, nuclear and hydroelectric power (96 percent of today’s energy) — and imaginary energy that politicians promise will someday come from wind, solar and ethanol (less than 1 percent today).

Worse, every ounce of “stimulus” is offset by a pound of new government arsenic.

Some 22,000 magnificent polar bears now roam the Arctic, and their numbers continue to increase. But bureaucrats and environmental activists want the bears designated as a “threatened” species.

Doing so would put courts and bureaucrats in charge of any activity that produces greenhouse gases: heating, cooling, transportation and manufacturing … bakeries, dry cleaners, hotels, office and apartment buildings, cement plants and dairy farms. The price of everything we do, eat, drive and wear would soar. Jobs would disappear. And for millions the American Dream would slip out of reach.

They justify these demands by citing computer models that conjure up disaster scenarios in which rising carbon dioxide causes icy habitats to melt 50 to 100 years from now, driving polar bears to extinction.

However, hundreds of climate scientists emphasize that these models can’t forecast accurately even one year in advance, much less 50. They say there is no evidence Earth’s moderate warming of the last century will turn into a disaster, or that CO2 is the primary cause of climate change.

Empirical evidence, they argue, demonstrates that climate change is driven primarily by solar energy output, cosmic rays and other natural causes. Indeed, average global temperatures have been stable since 2001, despite steadily rising CO2 levels. Costly, punitive efforts to cut CO2 will likely have zero to minimal benefits.

Nevertheless, the same models and alarmist reasoning are used to promote bills to slash carbon dioxide emissions and establish complex cap-and-trade systems. Politicians claim the legislation will stabilize a climate that has changed repeatedly over the ages.

The proposal by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, is the least restrictive bill. But EPA says even it would send gasoline prices up an extra 57 cents a gallon, spark a 20 percent increase in electricity prices and cut $124 billion to $370 billion from our gross domestic product. These sacrifices would reduce atmospheric CO2 levels in 2050 by 1.5 percent and average global temperature by perhaps 0.05 degrees.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Independent-Democrat, admits his more draconian bill would cost “hundreds of billions” of dollars. Others demand we eliminate up to 80 percent of CO2 emissions by 2050.

All would give bureaucrats control over virtually every aspect of our lives. All would make reliable, affordable energy a distant memory — even with an all-out program to build more nuclear power plants, which is anathema to many greens and legislators. All would force industry to spend trillions of dollars capturing, pipelining and storing CO2 in high-pressure subterranean storage chambers — which some experts fear could rupture and asphyxiate numerous people.

To counter concerns about U.S. jobs heading to China and India, the administration is prodding them to take “measurable actions” to reduce CO2 emissions. But their focus is rightly on reducing poverty through economic growth, and cleaning up filthy air and water. Speculative climate change is a low priority.

Affordable, reliable energy transforms constitutionally protected rights into actual rights and opportunities for better jobs and living standards. Restricting energy supplies rolls back civil rights gains.

It’s time to end the alarmist rhetoric, and safeguard civil rights.

Roy Innis is chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, one of America’s oldest civil rights organizations, and author of “Energy Keepers-Energy Killers: The new civil rights battle.”

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