Tom Udall’s Senate campaign is running a television ad blaming high gasoline, food and health care costs on “the George W. Bush economy.” We see a disgusted driver, followed by a fed-up mother and, lastly, a despairing patient. Then we see Tom Udall. He looks into the camera and says, “We have to get serious about alternative energy. That will lower gas and food prices.”“The George W. Bush economy?” When the dot-com bubble burst, Republicans blamed “the Clinton economy.” Democrats howled. The president is not omnipotent, they protested. Forces beyond Clinton’s control inflated the dot-com bubble, then pierced it. Udall’s universal theory of a “Bush economy” is equally fallacious. This sort of blather comes as no surprise. Politicians will blame their opponents for asteroid collisions if they think it means a few votes. We can expect Steve Pearce to respond in kind. The problem is Udall’s approach to getting “serious” about alternative energy. On the plus side, he’s supported federal tax incentives to stimulate the solar power industry. He’s also voted to require utilities to add alternative energy to their portfolios. The downside of Udall’s approach involves restricting domestic supplies of hydrocarbons and driving up their costs to force a seriously painful transition to alternative fuels. As a result, Udall shares responsibility for the same soaring gas and food prices he blames on Bush. Udall is a good man. On other issues he’s been a decent congressman. His record on energy supplies deserves critical inspection.Udall’s biggest contribution to rising energy prices has been keeping domestic oil and gas reserves inaccessible. He has repeatedly voted against opening the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to energy development. He has fought to keep every inch of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) closed to exploration and production. The consequence of restricting the nation’s energy supplies in the face of constantly rising domestic and global demand is upward pressure on price. It doesn’t take a Nobel Laureate to connect those dots.The U.S. Minerals Management Service estimates the OCS contains 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That’s more than a decade’s worth of oil and gas in this country. Brazil has freed itself from imported oil by drilling into its continental shelf. Udall’s votes make this country ever more dependent on oil powers that hate us.How crazy is the moratorium on energy production off our coasts? As Reuters reported last week, Cuba is granting exploration leases to companies from India, Canada, Brazil, Norway and Malaysia to explore an estimated 5 billion barrels of oil under its share of the continental shelf. But because of the moratorium Udall supports, Americans can’t access energy resources in the same geological formations. As for environmental concerns, we can look to Norway, one of the planet’s most environmentally responsible societies. Its deep sea drilling record shows our OCS reserves can be tapped safely. We can also think back to Hurricane Katrina. Not one drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico suffered a rupture or spill.According to the U.S. Geological Survey, ANWR may contain more than 10 billion barrels of oil and enormous volumes of natural gas. Production would be restricted to 2,000 of ANWR’s 19,000,000 acres. That small footprint would be on the Arctic Coastal plain where the native population, the Inupiat, want development in order to raise their standard of living. Opposing their wishes conflicts with Udall’s record elsewhere of supporting Native American self-determination and improvement.Udall has also voted against efforts to expedite construction of new refineries. No new refineries have been built in the U.S. in a long time. Tight refining capacity creates such a serious bottleneck that every disruption or slowdown translates into a spike in prices. Udall’s votes restricting America’s access to its own energy resources hurt the people Democrats are supposed to care about the most. Rising energy prices bite much deeper into those lower on the economic ladder than people who can afford to buy solar roof panels or pay premium prices for a new Prius.Like Udall, Pete Domenici is also a good man. He has worked for more than a decade on national energy policy. Domenici knows we must move to new sources of energy. He also knows we won’t get there tomorrow. “We need all the energy we can get from every source while we’re in this transition phase,” Domenici says. Udall should learn from the man he wants to replace. It will make Udall a better candidate, and, if he’s so fortunate, a better senator.
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