With the price of a barrel of oil reaching record highs, one would think that Congress would be working on a bipartisan energy bill that would allow the United States to produce more of its own oil. Instead, Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership have decided to privately write the new law behind closed doors. That is not encouraging news for anyone who wants an energy bill that is designed to fix Americaʼs energy woes.
The House and the Senate have already passed separate energy bills earlier this summer. However, because they are significantly different, the House and the Senate would normally work out a compromise bill that takes the best from both bills. But the Democratic leadership hasnʼt created the conference committee to do that legislative work. Now it appears Pelosi and Reid donʼt want a bipartisan bill. They want to write the law themselves in a dark room outside of public view.
Who knows what they will come up with, but it is clear that it wonʼt be anything close to what we need. What we need are incentives to allow more domestic production of oil and more refining capacity. What we got earlier this summer was something very different. Lots of new taxes on oil companies to fund speculative and currently inefficient and ineffective energies. Simply put, Congress wants to tax energy that works and subsidize energy that does not work — including alternative energies that havenʼt been economically feasible for more than 20 years. That is not going to get Americaʼs energy problems on solid footing.
Additionally, Congress appears to want to mandate smaller and smaller cars and trucks as a way to solve our energy problems — by mandating higher and higher fuel efficiency standards. Yet, not all families and businesses can get by with a small econo-box vehicle. And safety is always a concern for families who are forced into smaller vehicles which have much lower safety ratings.
Putting the economy on an energy diet is a bit like the government suggesting that during a famine, the problem would be solved if we limited everyone to 1000 calories a day. That is not a serious solution. It is simply slow starvation. A solution would be to grow more food. And so it is with energy. We need more energy to fuel the growing economy. Putting the economy on a diet, will have real costs to real people — fewer jobs, less income, less opportunity, and a lower standard of living. The rich may be inconvenienced, but he poor and middle-class will be hardest hit.
If you want to see America become more energy independent and see lower energy prices at the gas pump and on your electric and heating bills, then you had better hope that Nancy Pelosi is not successful in her attempt to shove a politically motivated back-room deal down our collective throats. If you see an “energy” bill loaded up with taxes on energy that works, taxpayer subsidies for energy that doesnʼt work, and mandates for smaller and smaller cars and trucks, then you can be sure that you have lost and the special interests have won. Higher energy taxes means you will pay more at the pump and more on your utility bills. You will also pay for the subsidies several times. First, with each paycheck when taxes are withheld. Second, youʼll pay once again at the pump and on your utilities bills because the alternative fuels Pelosi wants to mandate are more expensive and less efficient. And third, youʼll pay at the grocery store and the mall as you pay more for other goods whose prices have been driven up by government energy mandates. We see this now with corn and products that use corn.
Hereʼs how you can tell if the energy bill actually works for you: It will encourage domestic production of oil. It will encourage more refining capacity. It will encourage alternative fuels that work such as clean coal technology and nuclear, rather than ones that donʼt work, like wind and ethanol. It will keep taxes low on energy and consumers. It will allow consumers to choose the vehicles that best meet their needs for size, safety and mileage, rather than government telling Americans what size car they are permitted to drive. But we wonʼt get this sort of practical and commonsense energy bill from a secret deal brokered in a dark room by Nancy Pelosi and her allies.
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George Landrith is the president of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. Mr. Landrith is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was Business Editor of the Virginia Journal of Law and Politics. In 1994 and 1996, Mr. Landrith was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District. You can follow George on Twitter @GLandrith.