Power Failure

Power Failure

Horner Op-Ed in Tech Central Station
February 26, 2002

George W. Bush ran for President on two major "restoration" themes. He promised to restore dignity to the White House. And he promised to restore dignity to domestic energy exploration and production efforts. In other words, he promised to reverse an aggressive eight-year, anti-energy policy. Last year, the House of Representatives passed a bill resembling the President's proposed framework, with strong support from labor and thirty-six Democrats. The administration requested the Senate merely pass this bipartisan product. As the War on Terror progressed, public sentiment grew for increased domestic production. Things seemed headed the administration's way. Then came Enron. The public supports paying Americans -- as opposed to Arab sheiks -- to produce energy, but President Bush's political opponents have created suspicion of nefarious Enron influence on the administration's energy recommendations. Scalded by the attacks, Bush's passion for energy reform seems to have gone wobbly. Now he apparently wants "a bill" -- any bill. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has scheduled his energy legislation for imminent floor debate. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham reportedly (and reluctantly) communicated the White House request for Senate Republicans to "let Daschle's bill go." That is, put up a token fight but allow final passage of a bill Al Gore would love. That means work out deals or let pass major increases in required automobile fuel mileage (already killing drivers, by requiring more dangerous cars), and prohibition on opening any designated areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for energy exploration. The message: It is more important to "get a bill" out of the Senate than to stick to principles articulated in the presidential campaign, and in the subsequent Energy Task Force Report. Sen. Daschle created his bill after usurping the Energy Committee's jurisdiction on energy matters. Daschle's bill is larded with windmill and solar panel pork, and more heavy-handed "climate change" programs. It does nothing to reverse the strangling of domestic fuel production. This is not a surprise. The trade publication "Inside EPA" reports that Daschle's "senior energy advisor" and the senior climate fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council drafted the bill. So much for concerns over special interests drafting energy legislation. The advisor? Former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta. Already, White House staff members are heard to say (to amazement and horror) regarding "multi-pollutant" legislation amending the Clean Air Act, "we'll fix it in conference." But since when do cornered Republicans prevail on emotional issues in an election year? This same naiveté led to the recent climate change capitulation in the vain hope of green kisses. There are hints the White House is partly motivated by a dubious strategy. Some believe that acceding to a Democrat bill in the Senate deprives the opposition of their trump card -- "Enron wrote your bill!" But that is unrealistic. The charge will immediately reappear for the conference fight. And in truth, Daschle's bill so closely resembles the Kyoto protocol implementation that Enron might as well have written it. The administration should fight the fight. Democrats count on Enron-ing any pro-energy legislation - and its proponents - to ensure their anti-affordable energy policies live on. It appears the White House, partly seeking to relegate shrieks of Enron influence to the back burner, is willing to roll over for Tom Daschle. That capitulation only ensures a significantly weakened final version of what could otherwise be critical legislative reforms.