Editorial: Duct tape shenanigans

Policymakers of democratic states are expected to make necessary decisions to preserve the security and further the prosperity of the nation. Yet, Americans have seen just how woefully shortsighted and unresponsive their governments have been and continue to be.

Hurricane Katrina has exposed severe shortcomings in our nation’s capabilities to respond to major disasters. Officials at the local, state and federal level, Democrats and Republicans alike, proved to be woefully unprepared in the wake of terrible destruction. But the aftermath of this horrific tragedy also has revealed just how little has been done to correct or ameliorate this nation’s almost total economic dependence on oil as an energy source.

Almost all oil and gas production in the Gulf Coast halted as Katrina plowed through in late August, driving the crude oil prices above $70 per barrel at one point this month. Emergency supplies released by the United States and other foreign nations have brought the price down to $64.70, but this is still a significant increase from May, when crude oil prices hovered near the $50 mark.

Such a price increase in such a short amount of time has hit consumers and businesses hard. Save for denizens of major metropolitan areas with functioning and efficient public transportation networks, such as New York City and Chicago, the vast majority of people living in the United States depend on their cars for virtually all aspects of their lives. We hop into our cars to take ourselves to and from work, buy groceries, go to school and travel. And the majority of what we buy at the market, from laundry detergent to a stick of gum, is shipped by trucks.

Despite all the talk from all levels of government about the need to break away from our dependence on foreign nation for our energy needs, we are just as reliant on foreign oil as we were before. There has been no fundamental effort to attempt to at least spread our risk through the development of alternative fuel technology, nor any attempts to force carmakers to increase gas mileage performance in vehicles.

Instead, states have been pushing for greater ethanol content in our cars, and many have clamored for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These plans, even if they work beyond the wildest expectations, does not make the U.S. any less dependent on foreign oil. The colossal energy bill shoved through Congress in August attempts to solve the problem by throwing more than $14 billion in tax incentives, 1,700 additional pages to the tax code that already takes the limits of human misery to new heights and pork barrels, the perennial blight on the already strained federal budget. Throwing red tape and money at the problem has never accomplished anything that it was trying to solve.

It has been more than three decades since the first oil shock in 1973. But virtually nothing has been done to eliminate, or at least alleviate, our economic dependence on oil. Politicians merely put duct tape and painted over the fissures on our economic prospects. The arts and crafts politics must end. No amount of paper cranes will solve the problems we face today.

As with any crises, the current oil situation could be an opportunity to jump-start the efforts to find a different source of energy. The more expensive oil gets, the more receptive businesses and consumers become to other options. Now might be a good time to make things happen, if our officials would drop the scissors before they start running back to work.