Texas Times: Energy -- Near-term Relief, Long-term Security

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn May 7, 2008, 5:27am

In every area of our state, Texans are struggling to cope with record-high energy prices. The sharp rise in gasoline, particularly, has caused hardship on Texas families, who are now paying an average $1,400 per year more for gas than in 2007.

In Texas, energy expenditures are not optional. Farmers and ranchers must pay higher prices for fuel and fuel-based fertilizer. Most families have to drive-to work or school or the grocery.

Rising prices are caused by several factors, including increased demand for energy in a fast-developing world. But politicians in Washington have explaining to do as well. Despite decades of talk, Washington has failed to develop a coherent energy policy to reduce our dependency on foreign energy sources.

Like many issues, we're seeing two very different approaches to solving a problem. I believe increasing American energy supply will help provide near-term relief at the pump and long-term security. Others are proposing distracting plans that don't produce a drop of additional supply.

The U.S. is now transitioning from reliance on fossil fuels to a broader-based energy supply that will include increased solar, wind, biofuel, nuclear, coal conversion and other sources. We need all of this supply. Both government and private industry are spending billions of dollars annually to promote this change, and speed it along.

But for the next decades, oil, gas and coal will remain the dominant source of energy generation. The free market could likely provide those supplies through new exploration-but the federal government has prevented that from happening.

Congress has blocked energy development in Alaska and in many offshore areas with huge oil deposits. We've prevented construction of new refineries, and we've failed to pursue clean coal technologies that show great promise of producing energy while fully protecting the environment.

Because any energy project takes years to complete, that provides an excuse for inaction in Washington. Jay Leno captured the mindset this month: "Democrats said [exploration in Alaska] wouldn't do any good because it wouldn't produce oil for ten years. You know, the same thing they said ten years ago."

(President Clinton, in 1995, vetoed a bill to allow energy development in Alaska that would now be producing more than one million additional barrels of oil per day.)

Washington is now debating yet again what to do about high energy prices. There's no shortage of ideas, but most of them are unhelpful or even counterproductive.

Some legislators want to investigate oil companies for price gouging. Others want to sue OPEC. Still others want to increase taxes on U.S. energy firms, or suspend the gas tax for a few months. None of these suggestions would produce a single additional gallon of gasoline.

One particularly useless idea is for a windfall profits tax on American energy producers. We have tried this before, in the 1980s, and the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reports it actually diminished our energy supply. It would reduce exploration and development of alternative energy, and increase reliance on foreign supplies.

I believe we should get government out of the way and allow for increased production of energy. I co-sponsored legislation this month that would do exactly that.

The American Energy Production Act would facilitate leasing in the Atlantic and Pacific regions of the outer continental shelf. It would also establish a competitive oil and gas leasing program for a tiny section of the Alaskan wilderness (ANWR) coastal plain. These areas hold up to 24 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

There are additional steps we should take, including finding ways to use plentiful shale areas, to increase production. Congress has power, but it cannot repeal the law of supply and demand.

The only way to keep prices from rising further, at a time of rising demand, is to increase supply of energy. It's a simple lesson of economics that Washington hasn't yet learned.

Sen. Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee's Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee's Airland subcommittee.

For Senator Cornyn's previous Texas Times columns, visit: http://cornyn.senate.gov/column

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