TCS Daily

Kerry's Contradictions

By Duane D. Freese - April 13, 2004 12:00 AM

John Kerry, the putative Democratic Party nominee, certainly has a way of attacking a problem in all directions.

Take energy. Read the material on Kerry's website, and you would come to the conclusion that he wants to do everything he can to reduce the use of that devil oil. He favors, for example, raising corporate average fuel economy standards on SUVs. He wants tax credits and subsidies for renewable energy. He would encourage use of natural gas, including supporting streamlining natural gas pipelines from Alaska.

In short, Kerry would do just about anything to get rid of that "dirty black stuff" -- oil. Everything, that is, except the most powerful thing that can discourage oil use: accept increases in the price of oil.

Recent gasoline price increases had Kerry pestering the Bush administration to halt deposits into the strategic petroleum reserve. Now, considering the situation in the Middle East and the war on terrorism, it seems a good idea to fill that up now, just in case of problems later. While President Clinton could afford to play politics for his vice president, Al Gore, with oil prices in 2000 by releasing 25 million barrels from the reserve to keep the economy humming, Bush, in the wake of 9/11, has good reason to make protecting the nation's security his first priority.

So, Kerry plays politics. And he doesn't stop with the reserve. He promises that he will jawbone the Saudis and other Arab states to increase oil flows and keep prices down, encouraging greater dependence. And he also will enact a "national fuel strategy" to reduce price disparities across the country, price disparities caused by formulation requirements imposed by states to meet clean air mandates Kerry elsewhere on his website says aren't strict enough.

This is nothing new. Democratic Party candidates love to beat up on Big Oil. It is a mantra that they shouldn't be allowed to drill in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, or offshore, or anywhere. They also have great faith that -- if only automakers or other big business would open their eyes (and, more, their wallets) abundant wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and hydrogen would soon provide us with abundant, clean, non-oil or non-carbon-based energy supplies.

What Kerry does as well as any of them, though, is try to make this pretty puffball look as if it had some real substance with a patina of realism.

So, for example, he talks about raising CAFE standards to 36 miles per gallon and including Americans' favored vehicles -- the SUV -- in the average, but only in the industries production cycle, sometime in 2015.

He further notes that "for 30 to 50 years in the future, like it or not, we will continue to have major dependency on fossil fuels."

You've got to like a guy who has some grasp on reality. Only Kerry's grip slips pretty quickly into thin air.

Consider his 20/20 plan -- 20 percent "clean" production of electricity by 2020 -- a goal that is "worthy of America" and best of all it's only a "small step" since California now gets 13 percent of its energy from renewables.

Kerry only neglects to mention that most of California's "renewable" power comes from hydroelectricity, and that you can't really dam that many more rivers and streams without creating environmental havoc. He doesn't mention that biomass -- ethanol -- requires massive subsidies, as do solar and wind as well. And that the 20/20 plan would replace not the fuel we import -- oil -- but the one we have in abundance, coal.

His SUV plan, meanwhile, runs up on an economic shoal. Auto companies only make $145 on average per vehicle. SUV's are American automakers' most profitable lines -- it is what keeps the Detroit assembly lines humming. Foreign automakers can make small cars cheaper. Including SUVs in the fleet average -- rather than having separate mileage standards for them -- ensures only that their production will go offshore, or to nonunion shops down South. It is a plan, in short, for gutting the manufacturing base in the Midwest.

And what is the price incentive to get people to buy the more expensive high mileage vehicles anyway, if Kerry is going to jawbone the Saudis and stop filling the oil reserve and change refining practices to keep gasoline prices low? If Kerry as a candidate is unwilling now to accept a rise in gasoline prices, he'll have a tougher time when in office to claim a mandate for any policy that would allow them to rise.

The problem with Kerry on energy is that he is trying to do two contradictory things at the same time -- please pristine anti-industrial environmentalists while appealing to the Reagan Democrats with manufacturing jobs in the Midwest. It forces him to propose huge, uneconomic, budget-busting tax credits to promote new energy technology and new vehicle purchases, even as he rails against the Bush administration for giving out budget-busting tax breaks. It forces him to put off solving any problems until 2015 or 2020, if then, even while he stokes radical environmental fires by intoning such nonsense as "scientists believe literally catastrophic consequences from global warming will occur in the absence of serious emission reductions."

If we face such catastrophe, how come Kerry can't let gas prices rise a little bit without claiming the sky is falling? Kerry isn't contradictory on energy and environmental matters. He's more like the Gordian knot. Slice through it and there is nothing there.


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