Drilling for answers

Our view: Energy debate shouldn't be a stand-up routine

August 06, 2008

Democrats and Republicans have been distressingly ready in recent days to provide some comic relief for Americans looking for a distraction from the one-two punch of costly energy and devalued homes. But their campaign exchanges on the high price of oil are painfully far removed from the heart of the problem.

Sen. John McCain and congressional Republicans are demanding that Congress return from its summer recess and act immediately on a bill favoring offshore drilling. (They've seen the polls showing Americans favor it.) Never mind that Energy Department officials estimate that it would take more than a decade before oil could be produced from new offshore wells. Or that industry experts claim serious shortages of drilling rigs and crews. Or that economists agree that more offshore oil would have little, if any, effect on high oil prices.

Mr. McCain hit Sen. Barack Obama hard for his opposition to offshore drilling and mocked him for favoring maintaining proper tire pressure to improve gas mileage. Mr. Obama hit back, saying Mr. McCain had done nothing to meet the energy challenge in more than two decades in Congress. But the Democrat also offered to consider a compromise on offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan. He then endorsed a questionable proposal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to sell oil from the nation's strategic petroleum reserve to drive down prices in the short term. Never mind that experts say using the reserve, which is intended for times of urgent shortages, is ill advised.

The candidate volleys have taken on a certain comic urgency as each has accused the other of being part of the energy problem, not the solution. "We have to drill here and we have to drill now," shouted Mr. McCain at a rally this week. Parried Mr. Obama: "I don't know where he was standing. I think he was in a building." But increasing offshore drilling or tapping the oil reserve won't produce energy independence. A United States untethered from foreign oil resides in better use of expanding natural gas reserves, wind, solar, geothermal and nuclear resources and, most important, conservation - and bipartisan cooperation. The sooner both candidates recognize that is the only winning strategy, the better off Americans will be.

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