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GOP Offers Same Drilling Drivel

If nothing else, give President Bush points for consistency. Seven years ago, when a gallon of gas cost $1.46, he wanted to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Now, when that same gallon costs nearly $4 — with diesel fuel approaching $5 a gallon — the former Texas oilman has announced a bold new solution: Drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge!

As the price of gas sets a new record seemingly every week, I wish the president had something else to offer Americans, people like the truckers being driven out of business by the cost of diesel or the dozens of high school students forced to bike 10 miles to school and back in Eclectic, Ala.

Instead, Bush seems more concerned with boosting the record profits of oil companies. Drilling in the Arctic refuge would certainly offer corporations a windfall in the form of new access to taxpayer-owned lands, but it would save drivers only a penny a gallon — 20 years from now.

In fact, more drilling has barely put a dent in gas prices. While Republicans argue strenuously that increasing domestic production is the key to solving our national energy challenges, they ignore that drilling on federal public land has increased dramatically since 2000 — climbing some 66 percent — at the same time the cost of gas has tripled.

Furthermore, the vast majority of federal oil and gas resources located on the Outer Continental Shelf are already open for development. Nearly 80 percent of the oil and 82 percent of the natural gas believed to exist on the OCS are located in areas already open for leasing.

And the same flawed logic that tells us to drill in Alaska also tells us to gift-wrap even more public land for the oil companies, so they can build even more refineries — even though refineries were operating at the end of last month at 87 percent capacity, a 10-year low.

Drill and veto: If there’s anything else in the president’s energy plan, I haven’t been able to find it. Democrats are the only ones who are coming forward with solutions, both immediate and long-term, to bring gas prices down. As a matter of fact, we’ve been working on major reforms, including the following:

First, we voted to temporarily suspend the filling of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the nation’s emergency supply of crude oil, until the end of December. Because the reserve is already at 97 percent capacity, suspending shipments wouldn’t harm us in a crisis. But experts project that a halt to government stockpiling may temporarily lower gas prices. Fortunately, President Bush — who threatened to veto such legislation — relented in the face of overwhelming bipartisan support for it and signed it into law on May 19.

Second, we passed legislation to investigate price gouging by wholesalers and retailers, who may be using the cover of high prices to unfairly inflate their rates even further.

Third, we’re holding the OPEC monopoly accountable for price fixing that flouts the free market and artificially drives up the cost of crude oil. The House passed legislation 324-84 to empower the Department of Justice to take legal action against OPEC-controlled entities for participating in oil cartels that drive up prices globally and in the United States. The Bush administration has threatened to veto this measure.

Fourth, we gave the Federal Trade Commission new authority to crack down on those manipulating wholesale energy markets to keep prices high, and we spurred the FTC to investigate market manipulation.

Fifth, the Big Five oil companies, who are raking in record profits, should not continue getting billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies. Just think, the biggest five oil companies had first-quarter profits totaling nearly $37 billion, with Exxon Mobil’s profits climbing to $11 billion. Why is the American taxpayer subsidizing these companies? Given these facts, Democrats are working to repeal such subsidies and invest the savings in renewable and alternative energy. New technologies will reduce demand for gas, driving prices down in the long run and helping us kick our addiction to fossil fuels.

Sixth, we are preparing for a future of clean energy. The Democratic Congress passed a landmark energy bill that invests in alternative fuels and ensures that, in 12 years, the average car will get 35 miles per gallon, the first real change in fuel-efficiency standards in more than three decades. In one year alone, that will save Americans $22 billion at the pump. And as an added benefit, better fuel efficiency will also dramatically cut pollution: To achieve a comparable reduction in greenhouse gases, we’d have to take 28 million of today’s cars and trucks off the road.

The farm bill, which we passed over the president’s veto, will contribute as well, boosting homegrown biofuels production, largely from non-food crops. It makes a historic investment in new technologies to expand biofuels made from biomass and crop byproducts other than grain. It also reduces the ethanol tax subsidy and instead incentivizes the production of new cellulosic biofuels.

The “tax extenders” bill recently passed by the House is similarly farsighted. It funds renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects, which will save more than 100,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector and help create hundreds of thousands more. Moreover, it extends and expands tax incentives for renewable electricity, energy and fuel, plug-in hybrid cars, and energy-efficient homes, buildings and appliances. But as with so many of our positive ideas, the Bush administration is threatening a veto.

I know the clean energy gains at stake may be a few years down the line. But if we don’t plan for the long run, gas price spikes like this one will happen again and again, until we get the message.

Our nation’s dependence on foreign oil harms our national, economic and environmental security. Democrats have a responsible, proactive strategy to take on that dependence and the high gas prices it creates — not just this summer, but for years to come. To my mind, it beats the president’s plan: Mention drilling a few more times, wait eight months, and drive back home to Crawford.

By then, I hope he can still afford to.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is the House Majority Leader.

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