One foot on the accelerator, one on the brake

The White House announced today that President Bush will lift the executive ban on oil exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf. This action in itself will not allow exploration in the OCS, because it will not remove the legislative ban imposed by Congress. However, it may put political pressure on Congress to lift its ban, if Bush and his allies blame Congress for increasing pain at the pump by refusing to allow development of new petroleum supplies.

Although Bush’s action is praiseworthy, it does not even deserve two cheers. Bush should have taken this step at the outset of his Presidency, in 2001.  Also, it is difficult to make a compelling case for lifting the OCS bans while, at the same time, complaining that America is “addicted to oil.” Addicts do not break their addiction by increasing their intake.

In truth, America is no more addicted to oil than our 19th century ancestors were addicted to horse fodder. As soon as someone develops a new motor fuel that outperforms petroleum on the basis of cost, convenience, energy density, and environmental impact, consumers will demand it and profit-seeking firms will provide it.

But if Bush wants Congress to lift the legislative ban, then he’s got to stop sending mixed messages. No more “oil addiction” rhetoric, please! Otherwise Bush’s policy will have one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake.