The gas pump and the chickens

Guest columnist

There’s an old saying about chickens coming home to roost. Well, they’re here.

The saying is a metaphor for the consequences of one’s choices. In this case, the chickens are the staggering gas prices that are leaving drivers stunned at the pump. With crude oil prices approaching $70 a barrel, the average price of regular gasoline hovers around $2.50 a gallon in Washington and flirts with $3 a gallon in some parts of California. Filling the family minivan these days means taking out a second mortgage.

So, who’s responsible for these very high-priced chickens that have come home to roost? We are.

For decades, we have traded America’s energy independence for environmental purity. We haven’t built a major oil refinery in this country since the 1970s, we’ve virtually banned oil exploration in our coastal waters and many politicians still quake at the thought of drilling in one-tenth of one percent of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), despite overwhelming evidence that it can be done responsibly and safely.

We have also made ourselves more vulnerable to foreign oil suppliers in the Middle East. Many complain that we have been too soft on Saudi Arabia in the War on Terror because we desperately need their oil. If that is the case, we have only ourselves to blame.

For decades, we sat back and enjoyed the ride with a sense of superiority and self-satisfaction. We let other countries drill for oil while we prided ourselves on our environmental sensitivity. All the while, those pesky chickens were making their way back home.

The sad part is that we have jeopardized our economy and our country based on a false choice. It is not a choice between energy independence and environmental protection. We can have both. True, everything we humans do has an impact on our environment; drilling for oil is no exception. But the key is to figure out a way to do it responsibly, with the smallest possible impact on the environment.

Environmentalists deserve credit for calling the nation’s attention to the need for environmental protection. But today’s environmental extremists oppose any energy development that isn’t based on hydrogen, solar or wind power. But despite decades of energy conservation and subsidies, those technologies remain incapable of supplying our energy needs. Perhaps someday they will, but we can no longer afford to wait for the perfect solution.

The recent energy bill signed into law by President Bush is a promising step toward a rational, cohesive energy policy. But despite our growing energy crisis, lawmakers could not bring themselves to include the rich oil fields of ANWR in this hard-fought bill. It’s time – past time, really – to restore common sense to our energy policy. Just ask those chickens scratching at your front door.

Don C. Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business.