Bush's Energy Plan: Short on Progress, Long on Political Distraction

Sometimes when I come back to Washington from Indiana, I feel like an ambassador to a foreign country. The reality of the Bush administration and the reality of people around the country seem to be two very different propositions. Take the debate over energy in Washington. It doesn’t take a degree in economics to know that something is wrong when it takes $30 or $40 to fill up the gas tank. And we don’t need some Washington think tank to tell us that it’s a problem when so much of our economic and national security depends on whether Saudi Arabia and Russia are in the mood to be nice to us on any given day.

After four and a half years of this Presidency, we can all recognize the familiar pattern. We get lots of grandiose talk of a bold vision for America. But when the rubber meets the road, the President’s approach on energy is a hodge-podge of handouts and giveaways. It’s no surprise that these special interests would rather cling to yesterday’s status quo than embrace an exciting new future of energy independence. But it is utterly dismaying that the White House doesn’t want better for the American people.

And what is the centerpiece of the President’s energy strategy? Drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge – an effort that would do more to secure China’s energy needs than our own.

And watch out for these four letters: MTBE. I cannot recall a more glaring example of putting narrow interests over the public good. MTBE is a fuel additive that has found its way into the ground water in 36 states, polluting the water supply for over 45 million people. Courtesy of Tom Delay, we have a provision in the energy bill that would allow the polluters to get off scot-free, while sticking the victims of the pollution – communities like South Bend, Indiana, -- with the tab for the clean-up. And Tom Delay has already indicated that if he doesn’t get his MTBE provision, we won’t get an energy bill at all. That’s not leadership.

So where are the innovative proposals for new hybrid vehicles? For new low-weight-high-strength alloys so cars weigh less and use less fuel? Where is the far-reaching strategy to develop more renewable fuels like wind and solar, biomass and ethanol? Where are the bold steps needed to make a difference?

Washington is on the verge of squandering yet another opportunity to do right by the American people. Where action is needed, the President forces us to choose between give-aways to the special interests or legislation which the independent analysts say would do almost nothing to reduce our dependence on oil.

We have seen this before. We saw it when the American people were poised to take any action necessary to put our country back on track after the 9/11, and they collectively asked, “What can we do?”

“Go shopping,” he said. Tellingly, the President’s answer then was as short-sighted as his energy bill is today – long on political distraction, short on real progress. We can do better.