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Don't mistake it for policy



Published: Thu, August 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



San Jose Mercury News: President Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress finally got an energy bill, but in five years of working on it, they never "got" what America needs in an energy policy.

It needs a policy that focuses on reducing the environmental damage from energy use, especially smog and global warming. It needs a policy that reduces the nation's dependence on foreign oil, particularly from the politically volatile Middle East.

One stone for both those birds is higher fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks, forcing them to use less gas and emit less exhaust. Since 1989, the average mileage for new cars has dropped from 22.1 miles per gallon to 20.8.

But between Big Oil Republicans and Big Auto Democrats, higher fuel-economy standards were always a non-starter.

Other sensible provisions at least survived longer, passing in the Senate before dying in the House-Senate conference committee. One was a requirement that 10 percent of electricity come from renewable fuels by 2010; the other, that the president find a way to reduce domestic oil consumption by 1 million barrels a day.

It is no surprise that the bill, which provides $14.5 billion in tax breaks during the next decade, takes a handouts-all-around approach to energy policy. Many bills are put together that way. But that doesn't make it more palatable.

Clean-coal technology

At least the money directed to clean-coal technology, with the idea of capturing emissions of carbon dioxide, is aimed at slowing global warming.

Other promising features are the incentives for renewable energy and for purchasing a gas-electric hybrid car. The reliability of the electricity grid should improve with the mandate that utilities meet federal standards.

The real puzzler -- in terms of policy, not politics -- is the $2.6 billion in subsidies for oil and gas companies. Even President Bush said in April: "I tell you, with $55 oil we don't need incentives to oil and gas companies to explore."

One of the worst provisions of the bill authorizes seismic studies of offshore oil and gas resources. It looks like a crack in the moratorium against drilling off the coast of California and other states.




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