Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

6-27 Some Questions About Energy

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- In the spirit of Sen. John McCain's offer to answer questions from Congress. I have some questions of my own. These aren't for Sen. McCain necessarily. They are for anyone.
The last time I did this, I received some very cogent answers, some of which I shared with readers in subsequent columns. I even have some answers of my own this time.
Most of America's big airlines, in addition to raising rates because of fuel costs, have started charging for luggage, food and soft drinks. Except they aren't charging extra on international flights. Why is that?
My guess is that the foreign competition isn't adding on charges. As American airlines have been talking about bankruptcy, foreign airlines continue to survive, usually with better service.
Nearly every foreign country has higher gas prices than we do. They have been paying four dollars a gallon for years and now are paying $8, $10 and even $12 dollars a gallon. Why does it appear to be hitting Americans so much harder? Or is it? Are we just spoiled?
How much higher will gasoline have to go before Congress and the president get serious about a comprehensive energy policy? They all talk about it, but nothing ever happens. Every proposal addresses only one part of the problem.
Is that because every proposal is the product on one specific lobby that is interested in helping only itself? Nearly all the proposals are beaten back because they are too costly and really won't make that much difference.
The answer to that is that any new energy development will cost more. But now that we are paying more than twice as much for a gallon of gas as we did a few years ago, new energy sources are more attractive.
It's just that we have to develop a plan that addresses enough new energy sources to make a difference. We must combine sensible drilling in sensitive areas with higher mileage standards for vehicles, stricter conservation measures, development of numerous alternative fuels and some personal sacrifice.
At this point, government support for alternative fuels is just about limited to ethanol, which is the poorest answer but it has the strongest lobby. Everyone needs to suffer a little for a comprehensive solution to work.
New Mexico has an opportunity to be a part of the solution. Gov. Bill Richardson is a former U.S. Energy Department secretary who is interested in alternative energy sources.
But the real solution is national. And for that we have Sen. Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the U.S. Senate's Energy Committee. Between Bingaman and Sen. Pete Domenici, New Mexico has had the chairman of that committee for quite a few years.
The energy bills the Energy Committee has sent through Congress haven't done much. It was all that would pass at the time, but now that the energy situation is reaching crisis proportions, it is time for something bold.
Can Bingaman do it? He should be able to get Democrats to put some money into alternative fuels and increase fuel efficiency standards. But they also have to give some on drilling in areas they consider sacred.
Oil and gas companies have been happy to take every advantage they can to drill as many wells as possible with as little cost to protecting the environment as they can get away with. Environmental standards must be increased to protect fragile and scenic areas but drilling shouldn't be shut out completely.
At this point, congressional Democrats seem focused solely on punishing oil companies with an excess profits tax. A better solution is to use those profits for the more expensive drilling that will have to be done to secure the additional oil we need.
Oil companies will be willing to do that if they can be assured of a stable energy policy that isn't going to turn around and bite them down the road.
FRI, 6-27-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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