Even a blind squirrel can come up with an acorn once in a while, right? So there are probably at least a few items in Congress’ latest stab at an energy bill we can support. A few.
But taken as a package, the 1,725-page monstrosity is a massive disappointment, going light on the regulatory relief that would help clear the way to more energy self-sufficiency and heavy on handouts, subsidies and mandates.
It’s more of the same, in other words, and will do little to boost energy self-reliance or curb high prices. We’re in trouble when the most innovative and daring idea included in the bill is an extension of daylight-saving time — which Arizona doesn't observe because it would hike our energy demand.
Top House and Senate negotiators say it is a bipartisan triumph, calling it “the most comprehensive energy bill in the last 30 to 40 years.”
Comprehensive, perhaps. But effective? Probably not.
It’s already being panned by both sides of the political spectrum. “It’s the Tour de Big Oil,” quipped a representative of one green group. “Exxon is wearing the yellow jersey.” Added Jerry Taylor, a spokesman for the libertarian Cato Institute: “The bill is larded with subsidies, tax preferences and miscellaneous handouts to an energy industry that — with prices this high — are in no need of taxpayer assistance."
The bill will include nearly $12 billion in energy industry tax breaks, royalty relief and other “incentives,” according to reports. That’s nearly double the $6.7 billion in giveaways recommended by the president, but don’t expect a veto.
This is a bi-partisan spending binge.
The media focus a lot on tax breaks for oil and gas. And these even drew rebukes from the administration. “The oil and gas companies don’t need incentives with oil and gas prices being what they are today,” Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said. But the “alternative energy” industry has its snout buried deep in the trough, too. Renewable energy receives $3.2 billion. Alternative vehicles and fuels get $1.3 billion. Efficiency and conservation incentives total $1.4 billion.
None of these inducements to production or conservation would be needed if Washington would place the emphasis on clearing away the regulatory burdens, drilling moratoria, price controls and existing tax giveaways that hold down the energy sector and distort the market. We would prefer that the market, rather than pork-fed politicians and Washington lobbyists, pick energy winners and losers. But this bill moves us in the opposite direction, toward top-down planning and corporate-welfare giveaways.
There are a few good things in the package. There are provisions that will help enhance the reliability of, and spur investment in, the nation’s antiquated electricity grid, for instance. Another provision might help bring more uniformity to how federal agencies handle permitting for companies wanting to drill or mine on federal lands, modestly reducing the uncertainties and hassles they face. But there’s little more in the way of regulatory relief or reform. And it’s replete with half-steps in the right direction.
This is a hold-your-nose-and-vote-“yes” bill with only one purpose — to convince the gullible that Washington cares.