Manataka American Indian Council









We Can't Drill Our Way

 Out Of This Mess

By Robert Redford

For the Natural Resources Defense Council




Robert Redford is an actor, director, environmentalist and trustee of Natural Resources Defense Council

eldom do politics get this cynical. Seldom is the real pain of real people so cravenly exploited. Many of our fellow Americans now choose between buying gas to get to work and buying food to feed their families. Meanwhile, President Bush is trading on that desperation to peddle a lie: that sacrificing our coastlines and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Big Oil will solve our problems at the pump. He's already lifted the executive ban on drilling off our coasts and challenged Congress to do the same. The president knows very well that we cannot drill our way to lower gas prices. We cannot for the simple reason that America has only 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. The rate at which we extract that small share is all but meaningless to the vast world oil market where we buy and sell the stuff like everyone else.


Nevertheless, the president and his allies in Congress point their fingers at environmentalists because it distracts attention from an extremely inconvenient truth: that the Bush-Cheney energy policy, drafted in secret by industry insiders, is what got us to where we are today. That policy consisted of giving away millions of acres of pristine public lands so that oil and gas companies could expand drilling. And what is the result? Sky-high gas prices, record oil and gas profits, more global warming pollution, and zero progress toward the new energy economy that is our only salvation.

We know how to solve our energy problems and to fight global warming -- all we lack is honest, bold leadership. We had better find that leadership quickly, and not just for the sake of bringing down energy prices, but because it's essential to keep our whole economy competitive in a world rapidly moving beyond the dirty fuels of the past. The first step is making a real investment in energy efficiency. New fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks enacted last December are a small step in the right direction, but we can go much further. In fact, if we could get the average American car running at 40 miles per gallon, we could save more than 20 billion barrels of oil, which is more than the oil companies could ever get out of all of the protected offshore areas combined. If President Bush actually wanted to end our addiction to oil, he would commit right now to make that happen.

Instead, he remains committed to looking back to an era that got us into trouble in the first place. This at a time when every other sector in our society is looking forward, seizing opportunities and pulsing with good old American ingenuity, resulting in new and innovative solutions to these challenges. With intelligent policies, we could get plug-in hybrids, electric cars and new, clean biofuels to market faster. A 2007 report from NRDC and the Electric Power Research Institute predicts that plug-in hybrids could cut U.S. oil consumption by up to 4 million barrels a day by mid-century, while reducing global warming pollution at the same time. That would be like taking more than 82 million cars off the road.

With intelligent policies, we could clean up the power grid that charges those plug-in hybrids, replacing filthy coal and nuclear power, with its dangerous waste and considerable safety problems, with energy from the wind and the sun, and from advanced biofuels. Just look at what California has been able to do in the realm of solar power and energy efficiency in such a short time. Those same intelligent policies would also bring a flood of investments in clean-energy projects from Wall Street -- investments that now stay out of the energy markets because Washington has been unwilling to commit to a clean-energy future for America.

Let's not kid ourselves. We won't see intelligent energy policies suddenly emerge from this administration in its waning days. But Congress now has a monumental choice to make. If they give the president what he wants by opening our coasts to drilling, they'll be deepening our addiction to oil for another generation. They'll be handing the president's disastrous energy policy not just a third term but the equivalent of five or six more terms. America can't afford to double-down on the energy fiasco of the Bush presidency. After a few more years of this, our economy will be in a shambles and global warming will be unstoppable. We can choose a better future, but we've got to do it quickly, and each of us must play a part.