Earth Day Brings a Sobering Reminder of a Failed Energy Policy

As another Earth Day dawns, Americans can reflect upon a host of environmental success stories. Citizens across the nation are breathing cleaner air, are drinking cleaner water, and have less exposure to dangerous toxic compounds than they did 25 years ago.

Unfortunately, the Clinton-Gore administration cannot let go of the old-fashioned command and control approach to environmental regulation, which jeopardizes our ability to make further progress. This misguided philosophy puts both our environment and our economy at risk. Nothing exemplifies this more than the administration’s failed energy policy.

Gasoline prices have risen 50 cents to 60 cents per gallon over the past six months. Even with an increase in production by OPEC, prices will remain at least 25 percent higher than they were a year ago. The surging price of gasoline has highlighted America’s increasing dependence upon foreign oil. In 1974, net imports of crude oil supplied about 35 percent of U.S. consumption. Imports now supply about 55 percent of U.S. petroleum consumption, the highest percentage ever.

In contrast, domestic production has plummeted. Since 1992, production of oil in the United States dropped by 17 percent, and over the past decade, the number of working oil rigs fell from 657 to 153.

The Clinton-Gore administration has done little to reduce prices paid by consumers, other than go hat in hand to the middle east. They have done nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Rather, the administration’s energy policy has increased the cost of gasoline and discouraged domestic production.

In 1993, the Clinton-Gore administration proposed a new energy tax, known as the Btu tax, which would have added 7.5 cents to the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Congress balked at the Btu tax, forcing the administration to settle for a new 4.3 cents per gallon gas tax, which passed only with the deciding vote of Vice President Gore. The federal gas tax is now more than 18 cents per gallon.

As prices were soaring last winter, the Clinton-Gore administration slapped a new regulation on domestic producers. The so-called Tier II mandate requires drastic reductions in the sulfur content of fuels, regardless of need, and is expected to raise gasoline prices by 5 cents to 6 cents per gallon over the coming years while costing domestic producers billions.

Just three months later, as oil prices continued to surge, the administration imposed another disincentive to domestic production by raising costs on producers who drill on federal land.

Both President Clinton and Vice President Gore have also pledged to block any oil production within Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). ANWR is a remote 19 million acre area above the arctic circle. Most of this area is off limits to development, but a small section, approximately 1.5 million acres, could hold as much as 16 billion barrels of oil. This is enough to replace all oil from Saudi Arabia for the next 30 years. Clinton and Gore’s policy, however, would have us continue writing checks to the Saudis.

Rather than focus on increasing domestic production of the energy Americans need today and for the foreseeable future, the Clinton-Gore administration has pursued alternative fuels, a throwback to the failed policies of Jimmy Carter. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has even suggested increasing our reliance on windmills.

Perhaps nothing demonstrates the administration’s failed energy policy more than its unflinching support for the Kyoto Protocol, also known as the UN global warming treaty. This treaty would raise the cost of a gallon of gas by at least 60 cents, according to the respected economic forecasting firm DRI-McGraw Hill.

Despite its high cost, the Kyoto Protocol would do little to address the emissions of greenhouse gases that Gore is convinced are causing global warming. First, man-made emissions are swamped by natural sources of greenhouse gases. Second, virtually the entire developing world, which will be responsible for rising levels of man-made greenhouse emissions, is exempt from the treaty. The scientific uncertainties of global warming aside, the Kyoto Protocol would inflict enormous economic harm without achieving its intended goal. This is the treaty that Vice President Gore still insists “is market-based and realistic, and does not lead to economic cooling.”

This Earth Day, Americans have many environmental successes for which to be grateful. Perhaps we should also be grateful that, despite the Clinton-Gore administration’s failed energy policy, gas prices are not even higher.