We must boost domestic energy production now

I hope that Speaker Pelosi’s recent letter to President Bush urging him to draw down oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve signals her recognition that the solution to today’s high energy prices is to increase supply in the market. Possibly she realizes that supply really does affect the price consumers pay at the pump, and that would be progress, but I don’t share her optimism that releasing “a small portion” of SPR oil would noticeably affect either world oil markets or the price of a gallon of gasoline.

What’s likelier to do the job is an end to the ban on exploring for oil off America’s own shores. The ban on drilling in the same Gulf that’s open to Venezuelans, Indians, Vietnamese and Cubans never made much sense except as a political barricade erected by anti-oil environmentalists in and out of Congress. Now that the president is voiding the old executive order, I hope the Democratic leadership can figure out a way not to automatically talk themselves into the kind of frenzied opposition that prevents real action to lower gasoline prices.

This used to be the sort of Washington spat that made drivers shrug, but hardly anybody’s shrugging since gasoline got to $4 a gallon. The president’s decision offers an opportunity for the speaker to be part of the solution, and I hope she will not simply reject it again because she’s a Democrat and the president is not. What’s happened lately isn’t encouraging. Whenever the issue of gasoline prices comes up, the speaker calls offshore exploration a hoax and reflexively pretends that evil producers are sitting on an ocean of oil under leases they already hold. Smirking and sneering when producers aren’t willing to spend millions to drill dry holes is propaganda, and the only hoax is that the speaker wants them to drill where the oil is not instead of where it is.

In contrast, the more environmentally conscientious countries in the world—from Scandinavia to Japan—have no qualms about developing their own energy resources, including in the waters off their own coasts. They understand the basic reality that withholding oil and gas will not alter world demand. Withholding oil may only displace production to countries with lower environmental standards than our own.

The “severe energy price crisis facing millions of Americans,” referenced in her letter compels congressional action. Here are just some of the bills that would do the job:

  • Access OCS – (H.R. 6108; H.R. 3089; H.R. 6001)
  • Access ANWR – (H.R. 6107; H.R. 3089; H.R. 6001)
  • Alternative Fuels for Defense and Aviation – (H.R. 6131)
  • Boutique Fuels – (H.R. 2493)
  • Coal-to-Liquids – (H.R. 2208; H.R. 6001)
  • Develop Oil Shale Resources – (H.R. 6138)
  • Repeal Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 – (H.R. 5656)
  • Building Refineries – (H.R. 6139; H.R. 2279; H.R. 3089; H.R. 6001)

It seems to me that Americans want more energy production here in America, and the speaker might now choose to let the will of the American people prevail by permitting the House to vote on whether we will allow more American energy supply.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, is the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee