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Jewish World Review June 14, 2001 / 24 Sivan, 5761

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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Consumer Reports

Blackouts --- or blackmail? -- IF California is the future–as it often seems to be–it doesn't quite work just now. The rolling blackouts that freeze traffic lights, darken schools, and close businesses are just Exhibit A. But look closer. Wholesale electricity costs have leapt from $7 billion two years ago to as much as $70 billion today–a 10-fold increase! The country as a whole has escaped blackouts so far. But over the past two years we have spent about $200 billion more on fuel–double the amount coming this year from the much ballyhooed tax bill President Bush signed last week.

No family in America can escape the consequences of the coming energy crisis. The fantasy of unlimited power is flickering out. We cannot go on having cheap gasoline, cheap power for manufacturing, cheap home heating oil, without disturbing the environment. And even with more domestic production, which takes time, we are in danger of being held hostage by volatile foreign oil.

Few Americans have given this issue much thought–until recently. Now, over half agree with President Bush and Vice President Cheney that there is a crisis and that we may have to develop energy at home, even if it means some cost to the environment. Other energy sources are also being re-examined. Nuclear power is coming back in favor. Solar and tidal energy will be more seriously pursued. Still, for years to come fossil fuels will provide virtually all our transportation needs and most of our electrical needs.

More must be done to conserve energy, of course. But conservation alone will not remove the threat to our way of life and to our national security. Just how vulnerable we are was recently underscored when the OPEC cartel decided not to increase oil supplies but to reduce output by 1 million barrels a day–pushing up prices. We simply cannot put our fate in their hands.

Crunch time. Those like former President Carter who suggest that we have no oil crisis because worldwide supplies are adequate miss the point. What matters is who controls the supply and how they can manipulate prices. Higher oil prices drain money from our economy and increase our deficit in foreign trade. Carter may know something about oil, but it is peanut oil, not crude. His programs of imposing price controls on oil and gas failed, leading to shortage and rationing and an America gripped by malaise.

Here's the crunch: Cheap power requires new domestic energy supplies and power plants–but this may well produce more pollution and more intrusion on protected lands and waters. We must discourage domestic demand, and we should press for ways to use cleaner coal. But we must also encourage domestic drilling. Let's keep a sense of proportion about this. The oil we could get from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would involve exploration in only 2,000 acres–an area nearly half the size of New York's JFK International Airport in a region the size of South Carolina.

Alas, that is but one thorny issue. How can we build new infrastructure, including refineries, pipelines, and electric transmission lines without NIMBY getting in the way–local and regional areas protesting "not in my backyard"?

Conservation is almost an official dogma. But Democrats, Republicans–and most Americans–are unwilling to face up to what it really means. We talk the talk of conservation, but we don't walk the walk. Look at the proliferation of sport-utility vehicles. Or the massive air conditioners cooling ever larger homes. Each day, it seems, the gap grows between what we say and what we do. There's a hope that somehow we will repeat the conservation savings achieved after the oil crisis of the 1970s, but it is an illusion. Then, we started with a situation marked by shameful waste and high prices; most savings were enforced in the early 1980s when we had very high energy prices to deter consumption.

Individuals can have it all ways, turning on the power while protesting about power stations and protected lands. Government can't indulge in such self-indulgent fantasies. The Bush energy program must be taken seriously. Its goal is to relieve the strain on infrastructure, eliminate the current supply bottlenecks, and avoid California-style price spikes. We gamble with all our futures if we become do-nothings, pitting energy against the environment and accepting the paralysis ordained by environmental theology. We cannot conserve our way out of the energy hole. We cannot drill our way out of it. The hard truth is that we must do both–or face both blackouts and blackmail.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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03/01/01: Rethinking the next war
02/09/01: The education paradox
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01/03/01: Quipping in the new year
12/20/00: A time for healing
11/13/00: The need for legitimacy
10/30/00: Arafat's bloody cynicism
10/18/00: Arafat torches peace
10/03/00: A great step backward
09/08/00: The Perfect Storm
08/29/00: Don't blow the surplus
08/15/00: Voting for grown-ups
08/01/00: Arafat's lack of nerve
07/17/00: Can there be a new peace between old enemies? Or will new enemies regress to an old state of war?
07/11/00: A time to celebrate
06/19/00: A bit of straight talk
06/08/00: Using hate against Israel
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04/13/00: A paranoid power
03/10/00: Fuel prices in the red zone
02/25/00: Web wake-up call
02/18/00: Back to the future
01/21/00: Whistling while we work
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11/18/99: Fountain of Youth
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10/14/99: A nation divided
10/05/99: India at center stage
09/21/99: Along with good cops, we need a better probation system
09/08/99: Though plundered and confused, Russia can solve its problems
08/31/99: The military should spend more on forces and less on facilities
08/05/99: Squandering the surplus
07/06/99: More than ever, America's unique promise is a reality
06/24/99: The time has come to hit the brakes on affirmative action
06/15/99: America should take pride in honoring its responsibilities
06/02/99: The Middle Kingdom shows its antagonistic side
05/11/99: Technology's transforming power is giving a lift to everything
05/04/99: The big game gets bigger
04/30/99: On Kosovo, Russia talked loudly and carried a small stick
04/21/99: No time to go wobbly
04/13/99: The Evil of two lessers

© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman