Planet Gore

Learning from Alaska

On Friday, IBD’s “Drill, Dems, Drill” discussed energy policy, Detroit, and new Alaskan senator Mark Begich — who is no New York Democrat, he assures us. Is he having tofukey for Thanksgiving, I wonder?

That an Alaskan senator-elect wants to drill in ANWR is not a surprise. That he’s a Democrat is. Were high oil prices what helped push Detroit over the edge?

There were many reasons for the collapse of the domestic auto industry. We have mentioned the high labor costs and bloated union contracts. Others have blamed the manufacture of cars and SUVs no one wanted to buy. We’d also point out that, thanks to OPEC and Congress, fewer people could afford to buy them even if they wanted to. Detroit didn’t die just because corporate CEOs had a penchant for private jets.
As long as gasoline was relatively inexpensive, SUVs were all the rage. They afforded us the comfort and safety we sought, particularly after corporate fuel economy standards were forcing Detroit to make smaller and less-safe vehicles. Fuel economy standards did little to reduce our dependence on foreign oil but did raise significantly the cost of operating such vehicles. So did high gas taxes.
As Steve Milloy of points out, SUV popularity made a company such as Ford highly profitable and accounted for a 57-fold move in its stock price from 1982 to 1999. It was SUVs that helped the auto industry meet the United Auto Workers’ demands for ever higher wages and benefits.
Yet the industry failed to recognize the connection between cheap gas and auto sales. Automakers pushed, not for more domestic drilling, but for more environmental regulation and conservation. At the 2004 New York auto show, for example, Ford CEO Bill Ford urged higher gas taxes to reduce fuel consumption. Huh? Doesn’t that also increase the cost of driving?
Detroit and companies such as Ford did nothing to fuel their cars, but much to fuel the environmental hysteria that blocked offshore drilling, shale oil extraction and drilling in oil-rich ANWR.
Ford issued a report stating the company “views stabilization of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and energy security as critical and business-related issues that warrant precautionary, prudent and early action.”
How one achieves energy security without domestic oil production is anybody’s guess. The Kyoto Protocol has been documented as an economy- and job-killing waste of time in a world that is cooling on its own. How is that a key business goal?
Gas is cheaper now, but money still flows overseas to unfriendly and unstable places and thugs like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Domestic production is still stifled. Energy and auto jobs are both in jeopardy in an economy starving for cheap and abundant domestic energy. The move to put corn in our cars has not helped auto sales.
Connecting the dots between energy and economic growth is Alaska’s new senator, Democrat Mark Begich. At a news conference in Anchorage, of which he was the mayor, Begich announced he was “a supporter of drilling in ANWR.” This may not seem surprising for an Alaskan politician, but it is surprising for a Democrat.
Begich, who succeeds long-term Republican incumbent and state icon Ted Stevens, told reporters: “For the last 28 years, there hasn’t been a Democrat sitting in the caucus talking about ANWR. My goal is to educate them about how big ANWR is to this state.”
And hopefully how important it and other domestic sources of energy are for this country.
“I’m definitely different from a New York Democrat — you can bet on that,” Begich told the New York Times. He knows caribou and other critters have thrived despite drilling in Prudhoe Bay, 60 miles west of ANWR. Oil from ANWR could meet all New York’s petroleum needs for 34 years, news that should be fit to print.


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