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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

U.S. needs realistic energy rules

Dennis T. Avery Knight Ridder

WASHINGTON – Why did oil company profits suddenly soar in the third quarter of this year? The answer is found in an immutable law of economics called supply and demand.

When the demand for gasoline and natural gas exceeds the current supply, prices rise.

In a natural free market, oil and gas producers would respond to shortages simply by increasing supply. Unfortunately, hundreds of federal and state restrictions serve as roadblocks that thwart a swift free market response.

A few examples should suffice:

• Energy companies are forbidden to tap the massive oil and gas deposits we know lie on the Outer Continental Shelves off the East and West coasts. Those prohibitions funnel a disproportionate amount of drilling activity into the hurricane-ridden Gulf of Mexico.

• Drilling on America’s vast tracts of public lands is stymied by activist lawsuits that have nothing to do with public safety or protecting the environment. The Audubon Society, after all, leases drilling rights on its bird sanctuaries and wildlife thrives.

• The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska includes 18 million acres. Yet environmentalists insist that extracting millions of barrels of oil from a fractional 2,000 acres of that would devastate the refuge’s growing caribou herds.

• Companies can’t get federal permission to build new refineries, leaving our refining concentrated on the storm-vulnerable Gulf Coast. The only way to increase production is by adding capacity to existing refineries.

• Natural gas pipelines aren’t being extended to reach all potential customers because of the “not in my backyard,” or NIMBY, factor.

Simply put, the government’s rules are stealing energy from the public and pushing America toward twin evils – inflation and California-style rolling blackouts that threaten to sweep across the country.

Congress even wants to unleash some of the nation’s most notorious trial lawyers for a feeding frenzy at the expense of the energy sector. Years ago, Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency mandated oxidizing agents in gasoline – essentially forcing the use of MTBE – so car and truck engines would burn cleaner. Now, traces of MTBE have been found in the drinking water of some cities, and lawyers want to sue producers rather than the owners of leaking storage tanks.

Fortunately, the leakage is not dangerous to people; it mainly makes the water taste bitter. The lack of harm to human health isn’t stopping the trial lawyers from filing a blizzard of lawsuits to squeeze billions out of deep-pocket MTBE producers.

Indeed, responsible parties already are cleaning up after the federal government’s MTBE mistake. Yet, if the lawsuits are allowed to move forward, motorists will pay more at the pump to help further enrich already wealthy lawyers.

Fortunately, the world is not running out of oil. We still have more than 200 years worth of fossil energy in the coal seams, tar sands, oil shale and bitumen deposits – all outside the Middle East. With today’s new technologies, they can all be burned cleanly.

Real conservationists know that the caribou on Alaska’s North Slope have quadrupled their numbers in the midst of careful oil-drilling. Real conservationists know that nitrogen fertilizer, made with natural gas, has doubled crop yields all over the world, saving millions of square miles of forests from being plowed for low-yield crops.

The Green movement is opposed to all the energy sources. They’re even suing to stop the Medicine Lake geothermal plants in Northern California, where energy from the earth can be tapped directly – without greenhouse gas emissions, without radioactive wastes and without new transmission lines.

It’s time for Congress to stop dilly-dallying and put the realistic energy rules in place that will begin freeing us from dependence on Middle Eastern dictators.

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