Oil out of the ground is only a start. For new crude to yield lower gasoline prices, we need to reduce the barriers to building or expanding our refineries. Refineries face multiple regulatory barriers in a world of NIMBY ("not in my backyard") and the inevitable litigation from the environmental lobbies.
Here are five more energy imperatives we need to move on quickly:
1. Reallocate resources to concentrate funds on providing the necessary R&D support for energy efficiency. We must do this with the real menace of global warming in mind. James Hansen, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, frames the issue this way: Our biggest worry is not what we put in our cars but what we put in our power plants. He believes that we should stop the use of coal by 2030, except with those power plants that can capture the carbon dioxide.
2. Fix our mass transit system for both freight and passengers. When you consider rail in terms of energy, steel wheels on steel rails are some 10 times as efficient as rubber on roads. A real rail program could probably have the single greatest impact on our oil consumption and on the release of carbon dioxide. A single locomotive run by two men can haul the same amount of freight as 70 modern semitrailer truck rigs with 70 drivers. One passenger train can take 1,000 cars off the road.
3. Raise fuel economy standards for new cars and trucks immediately.
4. Substantially increase the gas tax, offsetting it with other tax cuts to induce people to buy fuel-efficient vehicles.
5. Pursue alternative energy technologies within the limits of the market.
Such measures as these would send a signal to the world that the United States is no longer putting its fate fully in the hands of foreign nations and that we are determined to reduce the financial drain costing us at least $300 billion a year. None of this will happen without a sensible compromise among liberals, conservatives, and environmentalists. We simply cannot afford a political system that is incapable of addressing such a critical national issue. In other words, we need real leadership in Washington.