Feature

Oil prices

Does Bush have any alternatives?

It's spring'”the season that President Bush's 'œfancy lightly turns to thoughts of petroleum,” said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. With Americans growing grouchy over gas prices, and his approval ratings sagging, our 'œhydrocarbon-based' president last week tried'”and failed'”to charm Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah into pumping more crude. The cozy get-together at Bush's Texas ranch did, however, produce some photographs that must have made the White House cringe. In one, Bush is holding Abdullah's hand as they sashay down a path, Bush's face glowing with affection. In another, he's giving the prince a parting kiss. You could practically hear Abdullah's 'œcoy' demurral: 'œ'Someday we'll pump a little more oil, George, but this is only our second date here at the ranch. You're moving too fast. What kind of crown prince do you take me for?''

It would be funny, said The New York Times in an editorial, except that kowtowing to the Saudis is what passes for Bush's energy policy. With the U.S. importing 58 percent of its oil, at $50 a barrel or more, the president should be working on some viable alternatives. Yet in his prime-time news conference and at other public appearances last week, he had none. As usual, he ignored 'œthe surest way to reduce demand and thus oil dependency': requiring automakers to improve fuel efficiency. For some reason, this simple idea 'œseems to terrify both him and the Congress.' Instead, Bush repeated his tired call for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and even pushed to build oil refineries on abandoned military bases. As for the energy bill that he's exhorting Congress to pass, it's 'œdreadful.' It offers billions in tax breaks and other goodies for the oil and gas industries, but little in the way of innovation'”not even tax credits for buyers of hybrid cars. In a moment of candor, the clueless Bush said he wished he could 'œwave a magic wand' and solve the nation's energy problem, said Joan Vennochi in The Boston Globe. It's beginning to sound like that's all he has in mind.

That might soon change, said The Economist. A growing number of 'œpolitically influential' conservatives are urging Bush to throw his weight behind ethanol and other biofuels, electric-gas hybrid autos, and other 'œgreen' alternatives. Among them are such heavyweights as Boyden Gray, who was White House counsel for Bush's father, and Robert McFarlane, Ronald Reagan's national security advisor. The less America depends on oil-rich regimes that harbor and breed terrorists, these advocates are saying, the better off we'll be. To get their message out, they're even forming unlikely alliances with environmental groups such as the Sierra Club. The political winds may be shifting. If Bush can shift with them, 'œthen American energy policy, and the Axis of Oil, would be turned on its ear.'

Joe Klein

Time

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