- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

The estimated price of bailing out Wall Street stands at $700 billion, an amount so large it defies description in normal, human terms. But normal, human taxpayers are the ones who get to pay the bill.

Plenty of experts tell us not rescuing these tottering financial Goliaths from themselves comes with a high potential for lost jobs, a truly turgid economy and an erosion of average people’s ability to work hard and achieve their own American dreams.

But I wonder if anyone would agree that the life preserver we have been constructing in Congress this week should contain some means to pay at least part of the cost without asking taxpayers to fix a problem they didn’t cause and which is not their responsibility.

As we work to strengthen U.S. financial markets through an assistance package that would pay for our part in World War I three times over, don’t taxpayers deserve a break from being the first resort instead of the last resort? Before we load them up with a ton of taxes and debt and push them out the window, I expect some attempt to offset the public liability imposed by this bailout.

Here’s one idea: Write into our package the necessary legislative language to lease Alaska’s Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf along the Eastern Gulf of Mexico for the purpose of safely finding and producing the petroleum reserves that lie dormant there.

And here’s why: The Congressional Research Service reports that in ANWR alone, if producers were able to recover 10.3 billion barrels of oil over the life of the properties — with prices at $125 per barrel — the federal government could collect $191 billion in revenues over the production period, estimated to be at least 30 years once production commences.

Allowing lease sales in these areas, will not only increase revenue to the Treasury through royalties and corporate income taxes, but will also improve our energy security. At the same time we should enact reforms to the energy production permitting process to ensure that the oil and gas - and federal revenues they produce - are available as soon as possible while still safeguarding the environment.

Many of us have spent months discussing the need to expand supplies of American-made energy for consumers. Even as this financial crisis is overcome, we know high energy costs will continue to erode people’s opportunities for work and freedom. Signaling that we’re going to do something about it will bring prices down, allow some of the cost of the assistance package to be offset, and take a big step toward ensuring that our economy remains strong.

Sure, the same people who oppose producing more American energy at a price that working, taxpaying families can afford to pay also will oppose this idea for sparing them some of the cost of bailing out Wall Street. But done right and done right now, opening ANWR and the OCS could protect the national economy, increase the amount of domestic energy available to fuel our cars and our lives, and give taxpayers the impression somebody cares more about how they’re doing than how much is left in their wallets.

Joe Barton of Texas is the ranking Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee.

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