Just Say No! to the pork-barrel energy bill
By MARTHA MARKS, REP President
AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Martha gave this speech to the Minnesota Conservation Voters’ annual dinner in St. Paul on October 21, 2003.
You know, I’m a pretty well-traveled woman, but I must confess that this is my very first visit to Minnesota. I knew exactly what I’d find here, however, even before I flew in on Sunday. For years I’ve listened to Garrison Keillor “live from the Fitzgerald Center in St. Paul,” so I believe I know just about everything there is to know about Minnesota.
I know that all of your women are strong, all of your men are good looking, and all of your children are above average. I know that every blessed soul in this state is a Lutheran who eats rhubarb pie and powdermilk biscuits made with baking powder produced by bachelor farmers who are mostly pure. I know you’re tough, hardy folks who can put up with almost anything, including cold, long winters and a bald governor with a penchant for running around in fluffy boas.
But I do have to say… the Prairie Home Companion just isn’t the same now that Governor Ventura’s not on the show any more. I really miss ol’ Jesse, don’t you? Fortunately, Guy Noir Private Eye still hangs out here in the city that keeps its secrets. At least, I’ve always assumed that super-secretive city was St. Paul… but now I’m thinking it might be Minneapolis. Somewhere in Minnesota, obviously.
Speaking of Minnesota… let me mention how impressed I am with the kind of welcome you Minnesotans give to newcomers like me. Here I slip into town on a Sunday evening and get to have not one or two but three editorial board meetings in the next two days. Amazing! I never saw anything like it. I really do think it’s wonderful that all a stranger has to do is show up in your state and she gets personal interviews with so many newspaper editors.
And you know, I really enjoyed my chats with those editors. Most of them didn’t know quite what to make of this infamous Republican environmental activist… this walking, talking oxymoron. So our conversations were interesting, to say the least.
I told those editors the story about how three mad-as-hell “green Republican” women just happened to meet at an environmental conference in Maryland back in 1995 and decided to form a grassroots organization to change the GOP’s lousy attitudes and positions on conservation and environmental protection.
I told ‘em how nicely Republicans for Environmental Protection has been growing, with members now in forty-nine states, plus Europe, Asia and other exotic places—like the District of Columbia.
I told the editors about REP’s trademarked slogan, Conservation is Conservative, and how we use it to make our point and get under the skin of the many self-described “conservatives” in our party who aren’t at all conservative when it comes to natural resources.
I told ‘em that while we’re not shy about getting under the skin of those non-conserving “conservatives,” an equally important aspect of our modus operandi is to praise, support and shore up Republican office holders who do show a strong pro-conservation and pro-environment ethic.
I told ‘em how for years we’ve been cheering for Minnesota Congressman Jim Ramstad, whose fine voting record on the issues we care about makes him one of our great heroes on Capitol Hill.
I mentioned how encouraged we are by the proactive approach that Governor Tim Pawlenty is taking to water quality issues. One of our members in Minneapolis recently thanked him for that by giving him a year’s gift membership in REP America. As we all said at the time: Bully for her and bully for him!
And I pointed out to the editors how enthusiastically we applauded Senator Norm Coleman earlier this year for his vote against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I told ‘em that we’re doing our best to keep him in the pro-conservation fold and give him courage to resist the bait that drilling advocates are dangling under his nose right now.
I told the editors how it seems the words liberal and conservative have gotten all scrambled around, so that when it comes to natural resources, at least… the self-described “liberals” tend to be the conservers, and the self-described “conservatives” tend to be the squanderers.
I told ‘em how I like to ask pointed questions such as: If conservatives won’t conserve, who will?
But most of all, those editors and I talked about a few issues of special interest to Minnesotans: clean air and water, energy, and wilderness.
Now… I have a hunch that all those issues are of interest to this audience tonight, but if I go into detail about all of them we’ll be here all night. So I’d like to share with you my thoughts on just one of them: energy. If you’re interested in REP’s take on other issues, I invite you to visit our web site: www.rep.org. It’s a dense, content-rich site. And since our board and staff are remarkably prolific writers and speakers, we’ve left a trail of “conservation is conservative” bread crumbs on just about every environmental issue you can think about.
For the rest of my time tonight, I want to talk about energy. It’s a big topic. A tough topic. Hard to wrap one’s mind around. But it’s also critical to the well-being of our country and to each of us as individuals—because it’s tough to make a really good rhubarb pie without electricity. So we do have to try to wrap our minds around it.
REP views energy as one of the most pressing problems that our country faces. The concern is not just with maintaining a reliable supply—of shoring up our famously failing grid—but also of affordability, appropriate type and environmental consequences.
It’s also very much about securing America’s future.
We at REP believe that this country’s heavy dependence on foreign oil is a grave threat to our economy and national defense.
It was our profligate use of Middle Eastern oil for decades during the 20th Century that made gazillionaires out of unsavory characters like Osama bin Laden and the Saudi princes. We absolutely must free ourselves of our dependence on the kinds of unstable, tyrannical foreign governments that serve as breeding grounds for 21st Century terrorists.
But that doesn’t mean we should rush off to drill in the last wild and pristine parts of America, places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or Mesa Verde National Monument or the Eastern Front of the Rocky Mountains. Trashing our own country to satisfy an insatiable appetite for cheap oil is a devil’s deal, a Faustian bargain. We Americans ought to be smarter than that.
The very best way we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil is to reduce our dependence on all oil… imported and domestic. We simply must reduce our dependence on oil. Period.
People don’t seem to realize that the United States of America possesses less than 4% of the world’s known oil reserves, yet we consume over 25% of all the oil produced around the world. I’m going to repeat that:
We possess less than 4% of the world’s known oil reserves, yet we consume over 25% of all the oil produced around the world.
With figures like that—especially given our taste for gas guzzlers like the Expedition, the Tahoe and the Hummer —there is absolutely no way that we are ever going to drill our way to self-sufficiency.
This is no big secret, by the way. The people running our country have these same facts and figures. Just last year, the Bush administration’s own Energy Department reported that even the maximum possible production of oil from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would reduce our dependence on foreign oil by a mere 2%. That’s miniscule. A tiny drop in the gas guzzler bucket.
Yet despite that acknowledgement by its very own Energy Department, the Bush administration continues its come-hell-or-high-water push to drill in what it cynically insists on calling “ANWR”… thereby making one of the wildest and most pristine places left on Earth sound like some already-trashed oil patch in Texas or the Middle East. It persists in its effort to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge even as it gives massive tax breaks of up to $100,000 for corporations that purchase the largest, heaviest, most gas-hungry vehicles on the market.
It’s deals like that which make me want to be very blunt in this speech. It probably will surprise you to hear what I’m about to say come from a Republican. But then, who better than a Republican to hear it from?
Those men and women in Congress and the White House who advocate such a drill-and-waste policy are not conservatives. They’re not interested in conserving anything. They are, in truth, squanderers. They are literally —and liberally—wasting our resources and jeopardizing our future as a nation. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.
And while I’m being blunt, I want to add in a very personal comment. Please don’t get the impression that I’m some kind of Luddite. My husband and I have two cars and a pretty nice house. We have plenty of electric appliances in our kitchen, including two Cuisinarts that I put to good use. I know how important it is to have reasonably-priced, readily-available gas and electricity. Not many people I know want to live “off the grid.”
I’m also a realist, so I might even come around to accepting that we needed to drill for oil in high-quality natural areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, if a number of conditions were simultaneously in effect.
If we were in the middle of a genuine energy crisis.
If energy was getting scarce and prices for gas and electricity were shooting through the roof with no relief in sight.
AND… if we as a nation were making every effort possible to produce and buy fuel-efficient cars and otherwise bring our over-consumption of energy under control.
If all those statements were true, there might be some legitimate justification for drilling in our highest-quality natural areas, just to get us through the crisis.
But not a single one of those statements is true.
We are not in the middle of an energy crisis. People are driving more than ever in their larger-than-ever vehicles. Builders are building larger-than-ever homes, which buyers are snapping up with nary a worry about how they’ll find the energy to heat and cool them.
Prices for gas and electricity are not shooting through the roof. There are momentary price spikes from time to time—including right here, right now—but the prices always come back to Earth. As always, we pay far less to run our cars than people in other countries do.
AND… we as a nation are not making any effort to bring our over-consumption of energy under control. Congress keeps shooting down bipartisan attempts to raise CAFE standards. And, as plenty of others have pointed out… nobody in this country is being asked to sacrifice very much of anything, including energy consumption.
This isn’t to say that we don’t need a good energy policy in this country. We do. We just don’t need the goodies-for-everybody bill that is being cobbled together by the conference committee chairmen in Washington even as we speak.
REP has been urging the Bush administration and Congress to junk its 2003 Energy Bill—a pork-laden, special-interest-feeding monstrosity that will do almost nothing to secure true energy independence for our country. We think they should just start over.
And we’re urging Senator Coleman not to change his vote against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It shouldn’t matter how many billion-dollar projects the pro-drilling conference committee chairmen—Senator Pete Domenici and Representative Billy Tauzin—dump into that miserable bill in an effort to tempt Senator Coleman. As a principled conservative, a fiscally-responsible conservative, Senator Coleman should just say no.
What Congress and the administration ought to be hammering out instead is a truly-conservative energy policy that does six things:
Emphasizes and rewards technical innovations that will lead to increased efficiency and conservation, including much higher fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles;
Provides incentives for power plant upgrades that will reduce pollution, instead of letting older power plants off the hook, as the EPA did this past summer;
Encourages alternative transportation systems, including, perhaps, light-rail systems for cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul;
Internalizes the environmental costs of energy production, so that the price we pay to drive our SUVs and heat or cool our McMansions reflects the true costs of generating all that energy;
Minimizes fossil-fuel combustion and the greenhouse-gas emissions that accompany it, so that we can start to slow the growing damage from global warming; and
Maximizes renewable energy use, such as Minnesota’s huge potential for wind power.
REP believes that a higher level of efficiency in the use of energy, combined with an aggressive pursuit of cleaner and more-sustainable energy technologies would mean a brighter future for our country. Such a program would create new jobs in entirely new industries, greater productivity, and higher profits for American businesses. It would conserve both our finite resources and our natural treasures. And it would lessen our dependence on unstable foreign governments that are breeding grounds for terrorists. What’s not to like about that?
Smart, forward-looking energy companies like British Petroleum are already making the move to greater efficiency and sustainability. Others will follow suit, because it’s both good business and good common sense. We at REP think it’s time for the conservative, pro-business Republican Party to leave behind the ways of the past and jump on this forward-looking yet truly-conservative and solidly pro-business bandwagon as well.