Sen. Barack Obama's efforts to explain his energy policy indicate why his campaign has emphasized celebrity over issues. The liberal San Francisco Chronicle says he is offering "more flip-flops than a Lake Tahoe souvenir stand."
Speaking in Florida Aug. 2, Mr. Obama said he'd be willing to support drilling off the coast of Florida if it were part of a "comprehensive" energy strategy. Just two days before in Springfield, Mo., Mr. Obama had denounced offshore drilling as a "scheme," and said that Americans would be better served by more often checking their tire pressure.
What could have changed Mr. Obama's mind? The day he was dismissing offshore drilling in Missouri, a Quinnipiac poll of 1,248 likely voters was released that indicated 60 percent of Floridians favor offshore drilling.
In a speech in Lansing, Mich., on Monday, Mr. Obama called for the release of 70 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. As the AP's Tom Raum noted, this was a reversal of a position he had taken less than a month before.
"The strategic oil reserve, I think, has to be reserved for a genuine emergency," Mr. Obama said in a press availability in St. Louis July 7. "You have a situation, let's say, where there was a major oil facility in Saudi Arabia that was destroyed as a consequence of terrorist acts, and you suddenly had huge amounts of oil taken out of the world market, we wouldn't just be seeing $4 a gallon oil. We could see a situation where entire sectors of the country had no oil to function at all. And that's what the strategic oil reserve has to be for."
Now, apparently, a drop in the opinion polls is reason enough to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The 1973 Arab oil embargo plunged our economy into a deep recession, from which we didn't fully emerge until 10 years later. We're more than twice as dependent on imported oil now as we were then. Iran has said it will cut off oil supplies from the Persian Gulf if Israel or the United States attacks its nuclear plants. Given Iran's saber-rattling, to deplete the reserve now could be an act of supreme folly.
"Remember how he hooted at suspending federal gas taxes as a primary season stunt," the San Francisco Chronicle's editors asked. "Now he wants $1,000 rebate checks mailed out to families, paid by a windfall profits tax on the oil industry that was tried and dumped in the 1980s."
Punitive taxation of oil producers seems a peculiar way to encourage them to produce more oil.
Oil and natural gas companies earned, on average, 7.4 cents on each dollar of sales in the first quarter of this year compared to 7.6 cents for all U.S. manufacturers, 13.7 cents for computer companies such as Apple and Microsoft and 17.8 cents for manufacturers of alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.
Oil companies are making "record" profits because 7.4 percent of $4 a gallon is twice as much as 7.4 percent of $2 a gallon, but they are making "excess" profits only in the heated rhetoric of Democratic demagogues. And although oil companies have benefited mightily from high gas prices, they aren't responsible for them. It's OPEC that restricts foreign production and Congress that prevents drilling here.
The other main components of Mr. Obama's "plan" are:
To get a million plug-in hybrid vehicles that average 150 miles a gallon on U.S. roads within six years;
To require that 10 percent of U.S. energy come from renewable sources by the end of his first term, and
To reduce U.S. demand for electricity 15 percent by 2020.
He was light on details of how this would be accomplished, for good reason. These goals would require magic to be achieved.
No current plug-in hybrid gets better than 69 mpg. It will take more than the wagging of Mr. Obama's tongue to more than double that within six years. And if we could get a million plug-in hybrids on the road, we'd be using a lot more electricity than we use now, not 15 percent less. Currently we get just 3 percent of the electricity we use from the renewables Mr. Obama favors. More than tripling that percentage in four years is not physically possible, no matter how much money is thrown at it.
Mr. Obama has a deep, rich voice. Coming from his mouth, nonsense sounds good. But it's still nonsense.