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America's Confused Energy Policy

MANY have said that the United States lacks an energy policy. That is far from the truth. America's current energy policy is simple: Provide energy at the lowest possible consumer cost, regardless of the consequences. Nothing seems to affect this policy, not even the threat of a major war. The proper energy policy is just as simple: Provide energy at a cost equal to the price society has to pay for that energy. The current military deployment in the Middle East stands as an easy example. It is costing an estimated $2 billion a month to maintain troops in the Gulf region. Since a main reason troops are there is to maintain the flow of oil to the US, the price of Middle East oil should be raised enough to pay for that cost. To pay any less for the oil is to lose touch with economic reality.

Europeans typically pay between two and four times as much as Americans for gasoline. They realize the actual cost of gasoline is not simply a function of the cost of a barrel of crude oil. The cost of gasoline should reflect the cost to prevent pollutants from automobiles from creating unhealthy and environmentally damaging clouds of smog in cities like Los Angeles, for example. It should reflect the cost of protecting oil supply lines. Most importantly, it should reflect the cost of developing alternative fuels, such as methanol, ethanol, and ultimately hydrogen, so that we will have other choices when we run out of oil.

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The 1991 budget reflects the current, misguided policy all too well. Budgets for alternative energy programs were cut. The approved 5 cent per gallon gasoline tax is much too small. To pay for the troops in the Middle East alone would cost roughly 30 cents more per gallon.

The Department of Energy is currently working on a so-called ``National Strategy for Energy Research and Development.'' But a recent draft of this document looks appalling. What the US needs is a plan for development of cleaner, more abundant sources of energy such as solar, fusion, and safer fission. This plan should be funded by fuel taxes which reflect the true cost of fuel to society. The recent ``National Strategy for Energy'' draft does not provide such a plan. It merely projects current trends into the future, predicting even greater reliance on Middle East oil, and even more burning of fossil fuels such as coal. This horrifying scenario, if followed, would virtually guarantee chronic shortages of oil in the future, and might well cause drastic global climate change due to the greenhouse effect.

The current US energy policy is wrong. We should change it if this country is to remain economically and environmentally secure. We should change it if we are to avoid the possibility of a greenhouse catastrophe. And we should change it if we are to ever rid ourselves of our dependence on foreign oil. We must pay the true price for energy, which is much higher than what we are paying now, and spend the extra revenue on developing better energy alternatives.