Of all the lessons beaten into America by crashing Katrina, one of the biggest is that the nation’s energy policy, past as well as present, is an absolute scandal.
For more than two decades, American political leaders did little – other than make fun of President Jimmy Carter’s cardigan sweater or cozy up to oil-owning Middle Eastern autocrats – to put the nation on a more firm energy footing.
Worse, when the politicos did act, they usually acted badly: fuel mileage standards so outdated that even the horrific Hummer can meet them; government-blessed market Darwinism that led to a few giants dominating global energy production, refining and distribution; federal oversight so blind that firms like Enron pillaged for years.
Energy bill. The current crop of Washington croppers is little better. In July, after years of inaction, Congress finally delivered and the President smilingly signed a $15 billion energy bill that – good grief – delivers:
-Nearly $3 billion in government goodies to billionaire oil and natural gas producers.
-Billions more in government research to develop new offshore drilling techniques.
-A $2 billion risk insurance program so billionaire utilities can build six more nuclear power plants.
-And, nary a word on global warming; no increase in automobile mileage standards; nothing to lessen the cost of natural gas, diesel fuel or gasoline and no federal incentive to increase U.S. fuel refinery capacity.
In the meantime, crude oil prices topped $60 per barrel, natural gas prices will set another record high this heating season and gasoline prices are nearly twice 2003’s average pump price of $1.56 per gallon.
All this was as predicable as Tuesday following Monday. But nothing was done back then and little to nothing can be done now that the crunch is here.
Agriculture. Agriculture is being smacked by the do-nothingness. Sixteen percent of all American energy is burned in the production, processing, transportation and retailing of food.
That means the U.S. food machine consumes about 168 million gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline per day to grow and deliver its bounty. (The nation consumes about 25 million barrels, or 1.05 billion gallons, of petroleum per day. About 9 million barrels, or 378 million gallons, is poured into the nation’s gasoline tank daily.)
The food-fuel number seems too big until you take into account the nation’s bigness: 2.3 billion acres, of which nearly half is devoted to food production – 580 million acres of pasture and 450 million acres of cropland.
Indeed, 2005 acreage for the nation’s eight principle row crops alone (wheat, rice, corn, sorghum, barley, oats, soybeans and cotton) totals 247.7 million acres. That’s the equivalent of farming every square inch of Egypt.