commentary (2007-46)

Oily Issues


Any energy efforts by Congress seem awfully late

by Barry Henderson

The energy bill that is stuck in Congress might be a boon to the state of Tennessee, where the governor has been successful in stimulating federal aid for research and development of biofuel plants to process switchgrass into ethanol. Both the House and Senate versions of the energy bill contain provisions for funding biofuel technology. The problem in the current conference committee work is that there is no short-term solution to our energy woes, in Tennessee or elsewhere.

Congress is committed to work out some form of legislation that could reduce our consumption of foreign oil. Good luck. Trying to get a handle on this countryâ’s dependency on oil for its energy needs in transportation is like trying to swing onto a speeding train that left the station long ago.

This nationâ’s shortsightedness on energy issues goes back for decades, with little progress toward creating an energy system that will meet our needs well into the 21st century.

We kept our motor-fuel prices artificially low in the world market, failed to develop fuel-efficient or alternative-fuel motor vehicles, and virtually encouraged greater consumption of petroleum products, both in transportation and industry, with little regard to the fact that the supply of oil is finite and most of it must be imported.

We are just now beginning to devote enough resources to ethanol fuels to make a dent in our oil imports, but the urgency of the need for conversion has led us to worry about corn-based ethanolâ’s impact on food production.

We are importing more and more refined fuel productsâ"both gasoline and dieselâ"because the oil companies have built no new refineries in this country in more than 30 years, despite tax incentives intended to stimulate new refinery construction.

We canâ’t tap our own existing oil resources, whether offshore or onshore in Alaska, for example, without shredding our commitment to environmental preservation. We have long been caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, refusing to recognize that reality, and now we find ourselves trapped in the hard place. Any amenable exit for us appears to be many years away, out on the horizon where scientists are talking about hydrogen energy and high-volume energy production from renewables, or from fusion reactors that could generate enough electricity to move us and our goods about in electric vehicles without relying on fossil fuels.

Nuclear power is making a comeback in acceptability, even among many greens who acknowledge that it produces little in the way of greenhouse gases, although nuclear waste handling and storage remain a concern. But new nuclear power production requires an enormous investment in time and money, and we donâ’t have the time and may not have the money to allow it to offset much in the way of our imminent fuel shortages.

We gripe about $3 per gallon motor fuels at a time when that may be a fraction of what weâ’ll be paying in a few short years or even months. Some among us are naively clamoring for gasoline price controls, failing to understand that the barrels of oil that are refined into fuel are being priced and sold by people in nations over which we have no control.

The worldwide demand for oil, which is growing by leaps and bounds in the developing as well as the developed nations, dictates the price that the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries may set for a barrel of crude.

The time when the United States had the political capital and clout to influence the OPEC nations abroad to any great degree is gone. We are left with the addiction to oil without the clear 12-step program to bring that addiction to a close.

Congress is grappling with energy issues that no one in this country seems to understand fully. As I said, good luck.


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