WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 21—Confronted with growing opposition to his let-it-rip environmental policies, President Bush and his cabinet—from Christie Whitman to Spencer Abraham—are beating the drums for what they claim is an immediate and unprecedented energy crisis. The doomsday talk is meant to provide justification for unpopular choices like drilling in pristine wilderness and ditching promises to curb carbon dioxide emissions.
Bush’s main economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, put it bluntly: “We have a major energy crisis. We have a choice in this country of having the lights on or, at least in the short run, having more carbon dioxide.”
Compare this with what Bush said during the campaign, when he argued we should drill in protected regions of Alaska because we were too reliant on imported oil. “Dependence upon foreign crude puts the nation at risk,” he said back then.
In fact, at an OPEC meeting in Caracas last year, Iranian delegates predicted the group would soon cut production because of an anticipated recession early this spring. And right on schedule OPEC has signaled it would indeed slash production. No one in the Bush camp should have been surprised.
What the energy industry now wants is for Bush to accelerate the push for natural gas, because it’s a relatively clean-burning fuel—a fact that could appease environmentalists who oppose further drilling. Energy execs are looking to drill for gas in the Rocky Mountains, where deeply buried supplies are expensive to get at. They’re also hoping to pull gas from underground reservoirs in Alaska and ship it by pipeline to the Lower 48. Some execs think there’s gas to be found by drilling along the shores of Lake Michigan, too.
The only way to make all that exploration profitable is to drive the price up. And the best way to do that is to manufacture an energy crisis.
That’s a time-honored strategy. The U.S. has had an energy crisis every time industry wants to jack up the price. In the 1920s, oil and gas men confidently predicted the world would soon run out of oil. Their claims resulted in a rapid consolidation of power in the hands of a few producers, who controlled the industry for most of the rest of the century. Then in the 1970s, the industry said we were running out of natural gas. At the time the oil and gas guys angled to end federal regulation and let the free market take over. “Free market” is oil-speak for monopoly control, since the big companies dominate production, distribution, and processing. Now they’re back at the trough to pump up prices one more time.