One of the most shocking episodes at the Republican National Convention was the unthinking cry for more domestic oil drilling -- the infamous chant of "drill, baby, drill." Before he moved to lift the offshore drilling ban, President Bush himself spoke of America's addiction to foreign oil, but addicts care little about the source of their drug.
As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has said, those delegates could not have been more stupid if they were chanting "carbon paper, baby, carbon paper" to keep their typewriters going at the dawn of the new information technology age.
Even if America were to sell its birthright for a mess of Big Oil pottage, it would be years before the United States got the benefit and even then it would reduce the price of gasoline by perhaps a nickel. This is a direct consequence of a stubborn fact: The United States has only 3 percent of the world's petroleum reserves. T. Boone Pickens has it right: We can't drill our way out of this one. Embracing alternative energy sources is the only long-term answer.
Here in the short-term with an election looming, Democrats feel the political need to relax their opposition to lifting offshore drilling bans in effect for 26 years. Last week, the House by a 236-189 vote took the first step by passing HR 6879, a half loaf that has enough to irritate both drilling enthusiasts and opponents.
Republicans dismissed it as a political sham, but it would open up federal waters between 50 miles and 100 miles from land along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. (States would have to agree to the drilling and several, mindful of their tourist industries, have already lined up against the idea). GOP critics of the bill say 88 percent of the oil now covered by the offshore drilling ban would remain off limits.
But the bill also would open up oil exploration in shale deposits in Western states now covered by a moratorium, a point of concern for environmentalists worried about CO2 releases. More pleasing to them, it would roll back tax breaks for oil companies and require utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from solar, wind or other alternative energy sources.
This week the Senate takes up the subject of energy independence. We hope the cries for a short-term solution will remain balanced by the new epoch's call for a long-term answer.