A reader who commented on that article last night reminds us that there is another side to the energy issue: Consumption. The reader wrote,
"I want a politician who straight up tells us we can't continue to lead a lifestyle with such extravagent energy use. I want a politician who gives us a smart direction to significantly reduce our energy consumption while maintaining a high standard of living.
Energy is in demand and the price is rising significantly but you miss the other half of the coin. Commodities are rising just as fast. We simply can't afford to continue a highly consumptive lifestyle. No sense bitching about it. Time to deal with it."
I think that this reader has a good point. Most of the political debate in Congress right now is focused on extremely short-term solutions to what is basically a long-term, and probably permanent, problem. Fossil fuels just aren't going to cut it, and temporary measures like that ridiculous one-time $100 rebate won't help Americans.
There is a temptation for candidates for Congress, as well as sitting members, to offer quick fixes for the short term. Just yesterday, for example, Michael Arcuri stood in front of a gas station sign with a small group of people from his campaign, and for the television cameras, declared that he supports a repeal of the federal tax on gasoline. That would save drivers 18 cents per gallon.
Mike Arcuri said, "If we suspend that, we would give some relief to the people who use their vehicles each and every day to get back and forth to work and, just as importantly, the small business owners, the people that own construction companies, the people that have trucks on the road, the people that drive for a living, they need help."
Well, we do need help from energy costs. That's undeniable. But, will a one time 18 cent reduction do the job? That 18 cents would be more than made up for by the time we hit summer, and if the Gulf gets another major hurricane or George W. Bush starts a new war against Iran, 18 cents will look like nothing in comparison to the price hikes we'll see.
To be fair to Arcuri, he also proposes investment in research into alternative energy. That's a good part of the solution - but it needs to be funded by sources like the gas tax. If anything, the tax on gasoline needs to be increased by a few cents per gallon, and that money needs to be put directly into the kind of research that Arcuri, Les Roberts, Ray Meier, and all the other candidates say they support. The reality of the budget is that America's surpluses have been drained into huge deficits by the borrow-and-spend Republicans in Congress. Reducing the gas tax and calling for increased alternative energy research at the same time just won't work.
The other important function of the gas tax is to encourage conservation. The patterns last year showed it quite clearly: When gas prices went up, people stopped buying SUVs, and got in line for hybrids. They stopped driving long distances for vacations, and spent more money locally. They stopped driving in separate parallel cars to work, and started carpooling. Reduce the gas tax, and you'll encourage people to keep driving more, reducing supply, and moving the price of gasoline right back up again.
I'm glad to see that Michael Arcuri's ill-thought gas tax amnesty plan has some balance in talk about conservation. On the Arcuri for Congress web site, under "issues", Arcuri states, "we need policies that encourage energy conservation. It would make far more sense to give tax breaks to encourage state-of-art energy policies for the future than to give tax breaks to oil industries to build new refineries which permit them to continue to profit from exploiting oil."
That's a nice sound bite. Now, Arcuri needs to show that he can get serious about energy policy, in both funding alternative technology and in encouraging conservation, by issuing a comprehensive energy policy paper.
Les Roberts has released a policy paper on the energy crisis that is much longer than Arcuri's short statement, though it could still include much more detail, especially about conservation. In that paper, Roberts writes:
"Our federal government must lead an Apollo-like effort to develop and promote renewable energy alternatives. The effort must involve researching and developing new energy sources, providing start-up capital and tax incentives to apply those technologies, and developing a social commitment toward creating a sustainable economy. An initiative like this will end our dependence on fossil-fuels, which will promote improved national security and will help to protect our nation’s natural resources. New York’s 24th District would benefit from such an initiative more than many others in the country. With 10 four-year universities in the 24th District, we could see millions of research dollars pour into the District. This translates to more high-paying, high-quality jobs. The work needed to convert our buildings systems to alternative sources of energy would create thousands of new jobs for our region. Furthermore, every resident and business in the 24th District would see the benefits of this initiative through reduced energy costs associated with living and working in our region."
Les Roberts has put his support behind Maurice Hinchey's bipartisan Energy for Our Future Act, co-authored with Moderate Connecticut Republican Congressman Christopher Shays. The bill "repeals the billions of subsidies for oil and gas industries given away in the Republican Energy Policy Act of 2005, encourages innovative mass transit solutions, increased conservation and weatherization, requires renewable energy portfolios and increases the corporate fuel economy standard to 40 miles per gallon."
The Energy for Our Future Act is the kind of comprehensive effort that we need to see coming out of the House of Representatives. It would be an easy thing for Mike Arcuri to follow the lead of Les Roberts and endorse the bill, thus adding to his own credibility on the energy issue, and moving away from cute gimmicks like the promise to save 18 cents for a few months. Will Arcuri make the move?