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Jewish World Review April 22, 2002 / 11 Iyar, 5762

George Will

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Playing with energy | Developments involving two desolate places and one lush one -- the fertile Midwest -- demonstrate how Congress plays with energy policy. Herewith a story of sexually ardent caribou, a governor vetoing a presidential decision in order to defend the sweetness of rural Nevada, and the political imperatives behind putting corn in your gas tank.

Although there is drilling for oil and gas in 29 wildlife refuges, the most fiercely contested question about the energy bill was about drilling on one-hundredth of 1 percent of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is described, by people more passionately devoted to preserving it than visiting it, as "pristine." Yes, and the moon's surface is pristine. Except ANWR is less so, because the moon does not have -- as ANWR's coastal plain, where the drilling would have occurred, does -- roads, military installations, an airstrip, a school, houses, stores.

ANWR could produce at least 1.3 million barrels a day for 25 years, almost what we import from Saudi Arabia. The House of Representatives voted for drilling, but it lost in the Senate, which is the habitat of Democratic presidential candidates who burnish their environmental credentials by jumping through the hoop of opposition to ANWR drilling.

Some senators said that drilling would interfere with the reproduction of caribou. However, the herds have tripled in the three decades since opponents of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline said it would interfere with the caribou's reproduction. Many caribou even cluster around the heated pipeline, perhaps just for warmth, perhaps to do things from which a gentleman would avert his gaze.

Many opponents of ANWR drilling favor mandating higher fuel efficiency for cars and trucks, which means lighter and less-safe vehicles. The National Academy of Sciences says existing standards contribute to 1,300 to 2,600 deaths -- and 10 times that many serious injuries -- every year. Nevertheless, stricter standards are favored by many people who were scandalized when President Bush temporarily suspended implementation of new regulations requiring even more reduction of arsenic in water. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated the regulations might save 28 lives a year.

Saving Nevada for the next Democratic presidential candidate (Bush carried it by 21,597 out of 608,970 votes cast), and perhaps winning two House seats this year are the Democrats' goals in opposing the use of Nevada's Yucca Mountain facility for storing nuclear waste. Nevadans are opposed to this use. A lot more Americans are not: 160 million of them live within 75 miles of one of the 131 locations in 39 states where nuclear waste is stored.

For 50 years the government has studied what to do with nuclear waste, which now amounts to 77,000 tons. For 15 years it has studied Yucca Mountain, which is 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, which fears that President Bush's decision to use Yucca Mountain will . . . what? That city's business is the satiation of various cravings of visitors who are not apt to avoid the city because nuclear waste is buried 90 miles away, 1,000 feet underground and resting on 1,000 feet of rock.

However, 20 years ago Congress provided a mechanism by which governors of states to which a president directs nuclear waste can conduct a minuet of defiance by vetoing a presidential directive. Majorities in both houses of Congress can then override the veto.

Among Nevada's allies are Democrats interested in making Nevada feel put upon by Bush. Also, people phobic about things nuclear, who stress putative dangers of transporting nuclear waste to Nevada, understand that the failure to solve the problem of waste disposal is one reason why no nuclear power generating plant has been built in a quarter of a century.

In the autumn of 2000 the price of gasoline went up a bit, an inconvenience for candidate Al Gore, so the Clinton administration, which felt the pain of a nation that has a low pain threshold when in the proximity of gasoline pumps, pumped oil out of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which exists to protect the nation against major interruptions of supply, not to knock a few nickels off the price of gasoline during a presidential election. For this election season, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of corn-producing South Dakota proposes substantially increasing requirements for putting corn-based ethanol, for spurious clean-air reasons, in gasoline sold in various parts of the country.

Democrats are trying to hold hotly contested Senate seats in South Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri and Iowa. And a regularly recurring mental illness, Iowa Caucuses Dementia, which caused candidate Bush to become an ethanol subsidy enthusiast, afflicts the herd of Democratic presidential aspirants, which probably includes Daschle.

Absent an energy crisis, this is how energy policy is made. And this is how an energy crisis is made more likely.

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