The Congressional Energy Crisis

Recently members of Congress treated the media and the American public to the spectacle of questioning oil executives as to why gasoline prices were so high.  Though this theater has been repeated with some vigor since at least the 1970s, members of Congress seem to lack no eagerness for these predictable performances of outrage.  Perhaps of greater interest would be some careful self reflection among members as to how Congress has caused the very shortages and price spikes that they are blaming on oil executives. 

The regulatory relationship that Congress has relentlessly sought to impose on the energy sector of the American economy has had deadly effects on the supply of gasoline in the United States.  Whether limiting the building of gasoline refineries or banning yet another area of the United States from fossil fuel extraction, the Congress has been quite deliberate for some time in reducing the supply of energy for Americans.  But in the chambers of Congress with TV cameras rolling, representatives express shock and dismay that reduced supply in face of growing demand produces higher prices.  Perhaps this is some of the reason for Congress' current 15% approval rating.

Ostensibly, the regulatory relationship of the Federal government vigorously promoted by the Congress has protected our natural environment.  Sadly, even these benign intentions expressed by Congress are not only misguided but counter productive.  In the 1990s, advocates argued that an expensive fuel additive known as MTBE should be added to gasoline to protect the environment.  Congress consequently mandated the addititve.  It was not long after considerable energy industry cost, that the additive was found to be dangerous to the environment.  Who do environmentalists now want to blame for the problem?  -- certainly not the ones who adopted the laws requiring the additive. 

More broadly the limits on drilling and mining over the past several decades show no indication of reducing the consumption of energy in the United States.  Because this is the case, regulations banning domestic extraction have simply increased global pollution by moving these activities to locations with far less deference to environmental protection than the United States.  Whether Mexico, Nigeria, or the hundreds of oil tankers leaking across the oceans, the displaced production of fossil fuels has polluted the global environment far more than the impact of extraction here at home. 

Our environmental jingoism turns a blind eye to how energy is produced outside the United States.  For some reason, outsourcing our energy supplies just makes good common sense for our members of Congress that would not be caught in front of a camera outsourcing anything else.         

The Congress is currently debating a bill to massively increase energy taxes on Americans with the promise of reducing global warming.  Those taxes will fall disproportionately upon the poor.  The deliberately higher energy prices sought by the bill hardly seem like a remedy for an allegedly weak economy.  For a brighter American future on energy, Congressional members could help us all by looking less into the bright lights of TV cameras and taking a hard look in the political mirror.

Dr. Ben Voth is an associate professor of Communication at Miami University, specializing in argumentation and rhetoric studies.
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