Time change offers reminder of flawed approach to energy

Bob Tippee

The Sunday approaches when punctual Americans set timepieces forward by 1 hr and thoughtful Americans feel reminded to wonder how their elected officials might blunder next on energy.

On Mar. 13, the US switches to Daylight Savings Time. Until 2007, this would not have happened until Apr. 3. In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, however, Congress extended by a month the period during which sunrise and sunset appear later against the clock.

The aim was to conserve energy. The main effect, however, was a palpable yet unimportant alteration of behavior at a time when Congress felt compelled to act. Oil prices in 2005 were rising. Frustrations were high.

In their zeal to manipulate things as a demonstration of resolve, lawmakers didn’t stop with watches and clocks. With the 2005 energy bill, they put government strongly in the role of fuel selection—setting, for example, volumetric mandates for ethanol in gasoline.

In 2007, as oil prices continued to rise, Congress enacted another comprehensive energy bill, this one stoutly hiking requirements for ethanol and other renewable fuels.

Now, with frustration over oil prices rising yet again—this time threatening a slow recovery from deep recession—Congress is talking about another energy bill.

Not all the ideas on offer are bad. Republicans want to revive offshore permitting, for example. And Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, says he wants to avoid the comprehensive—meaning unmanageable—approach to energy legislation.

But Democrats want to act on energy, too. Among other items of lunacy, they seek tax changes that would punish oil and gas companies, large and small. Compromise for the sake of an energy bill would be costly. And no one is talking about trimming ethanol mandates to feasible levels—or, better yet, rescinding them.

The country would profit if lawmakers would leave energy alone this time, if they’d let markets run their course, if they’d relax and enjoy the sunlit evenings that lie so soon ahead.

(Online Mar. 4, 2011; author’s e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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