Dumb, Dumber, and Dumbest
s a general rule about Bush & Co., the more closely a policy is associated with Dick Cheney, the worse it is. Which brings us to energy policyremember his secret task force? In the long history of monumentally bad ideas, the Cheney policy is a standout for reasons of both omission and commission. Dumb, dumber and dumbest. Ponder this: Next year, the administration will phase out the $2,000 tax credit for buying a hybrid vehicle, which gets over 50 miles per gallon, but will leave in place the $25,000 tax write-off for a Hummer, which gets 10-12 mpg. Thats truly crazy, and thats truly what the whole Cheney energy policy is. According to the Energy Information Administration in the Department of Energy, last years energy bill (same as this one) would cost taxpayers at least $31 billion, do nothing about the projected over-80 percent increase in Americas imports of foreign oil by 2025 and increase gasoline prices. (Since every bureaucrat who tells the truth in this administrationabout the cost of the drug bill or the safety of Vioxx seems to get the ax, Im probably getting those folks in trouble.) The bill is loaded with corporate giveaways and tax breaks for big oil. Meanwhile, Bushs budget cuts funding for renewable energy research and programs, and anyone who tells you different is lying. Now, heres the Catch-22 we get with this administration: It is using the exact language of the bills criticsstealing it wholesale and using it to promote its bill. Its our friend Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster who specializes in framing issues (framing means the same thing as spinning, and in the non-political world it is known as lying), at work again. Luntz put out a memo in January: Eight Energy Communication Guidelines for 2005 telling Rs how to talk about energy using language people like. The Natural Resources Defense Council found a Bush speech on energy on March 9 in Ohio that parrots Luntzs suggestions to a laughable pointthreat to national security, diversity of supply, innovation, conservation, and (my fave) Point 4, The key principle is responsible energy exploration. And remember, its NOT drilling for oil. Its responsible energy exploration. So there was Bush, as per Luntzs memo, talking about environmentally responsible exploration and announcing one of his top energy objectives is to diversify our energy supply by developing alternative sources of energy. Polling shows 70 percent of Americans support a drastic increase in government spending on renewable energy sources. Im tired of arguing about whether Bush is so ignorant he doesnt know that he is cutting alternative energy programs and subsidizing oil companies or so fiendishly clever that he knows and doesnt care what he says. In the end, it doesnt make any difference. You get wretched policy either way. The Apollo Alliance, a sensible outfit dedicated to reducing Americas dependence on foreign oil, says 90 percent of Americans support its goal of energy independence. Bracken Hendricks, the executive director, points out that there is remarkable agreement among many so-called strange bedfellowslabor and business, environmentalists and evangelicals, governors and generals, urbanites and farmers. Meanwhile, what we are sticking with is soaring oil prices (ExxonMobil just reported the highest quarterly profit ever, $8.42 billion, by an American company) and declining discoveries. Several oil companies are reporting disappearing reserves, and Royal Dutch/Shell admitted it had overstated its reserves by 20 percent last year. Nor are the major oil companies spending their mammoth profits on exploration or field developmenttheyre doing mega-mergers and stock buybacks. ExxonMobil spent $9.95 billion to buy back its own stock in 2004. The Chinese and the Indians are now buying cars like mad, and the result is going to be an enormous supply crunch, sooner rather than later. It is possible with existing technology to build a car that gets 500 miles per gallon, but the Bushies wont even raise the CAFÉ (fuel efficiency) standards for cars coming out now. The trouble with the Bush plan to develop hydrogen cars is that while you can get hydrogen out of water, you have put energy in to get it out, so theres a net energy loss. Conservation is simply the cheapest and most effective way of addressing this problem. If you put a tax on carbon, it would move industry to wind or solar power. Wind power here in Texas is at the tipping point nowcomparably priced. Our health, our environment, our economy and the globe itself would all benefit from a transition to renewable energy sources. And as Tom Friedman recently pointed out, it would do a lot for world peace, too: By doing nothing to lower U.S. oil consumption, we are financing both sides in the war on terrorism and strengthening the worst governments in the world. That is, we are financing the U.S. military with our tax dollars and we are financing the jihadistsand the Saudi, Sudanese and Iranian mosques and charities that support themthrough our gasoline purchases. Molly Ivins is a nationally syndicated columnist. Her most recent book with Lou Dubose is Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bushs America (Random House).