Bush’s Energy Plan

Too little, too late?

Here we go again, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post. Ever since the first gas crisis, in 1973, American presidents have been announcing bold new plans to free the U.S. from the grip of foreign oil. In 24 of the 34 past State of the Union addresses, in fact, presidents have proposed solutions to our energy problems. And what do we have to show for all this rhetoric about 'œenergy independence'? In 1973, the U.S. imported 34.8 percent of its oil. Today that figure is 60.3 percent. Yet there was President Bush at the podium last week, once again pledging to wean us off of foreign crude. 'œIs there anything more depressing?'

Yes—a close look at Bush's warmed-over 'œhalf-measures,' said Los Angeles Times in an editorial. His biggest idea was to cut our projected use of gas by 20 percent over the next decade. Bush's solution is to gradually increase mileage requirements for cars and trucks, and to produce 500 percent more ethanol, a heavily subsidized fuel derived from corn. It's a 'œnice gesture,' but no more than that. Bush apparently thinks ethanol is a 'œmagic elixir,' said Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren in the Chicago Sun-Times. But ethanol is several times more expensive per gallon to produce than gas, and requires a lot of energy to make, which means it doesn't reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Rather than being a magic solution, ethanol is 'œenormously expensive and wasteful.' So why all the attention to ethanol? said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Simple. Ethanol is made from corn, and creating a greater demand for corn raises corn prices and makes the powerful Farm Belt happy. 'œWhat we have here is a classic political stampede rooted more in hope and self-interest than science or logic.'

Bush did, however, make one important proposal, said Gregg Easterbrook in Slate.com. He recommended that the basic mileage standard for cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks grow 4 percent annually. Environmentalists sniffed that this wasn't enough, but no president has raised federal mileage standards for two decades. If we kept raising the mileage of the U.S. fleet by 4 percent for 10 years, we'd average 31 miles per gallon—and 'œoil-consumption trends would reverse, from more oil use to less.' Environmentalists, greenhouse-gas researchers, and energy analysts have been 'œpleading' for this kind of action for years. 'œGive Bush some credit!'

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Paul Krugman

The New York Times



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