That’s a nice frame. What’s the picture again?

There is a crisis afoot in America. You know, the crisis caused by the big, bad, evil oil corporations. The one where people are complaining because the price of gas is going up and have decided that Congress must do something because there is no way to go back in time and not buy that SUV that gets 12 miles-per-gallon and now costs $50 (and more) to fill up every four days. Yeah, that one, the one that proves capitalism punishes the stupid consumer. It’s all good, because the Houses cares.

The House of Representatives passed an energy bill yesterday, so it now moves to the Senate. Among its provisions, it includes the following:

–Open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling.

–Provide product liability protection for makers of MTBE against lawsuits stemming from the gasoline additive contaminating drinking water. Payment of $2 billion in transition costs over eight years to manufacturers as MTBE is phased out.

–Expand daylight-saving time by two months, so it would start on the first Sunday in March and end on the last Sunday in November.

–Give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission clear authority to override states and local officials in locating liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminals.

I presume that this bill is designed to be proactive regarding our current energy crisis but it misses the point. Sure, opening up oil fields in America could lead to “more” oil, but at what cost? I’m not knowledgeable enough about the details to bitch about the destruction of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but I assume it’s A Bad Idea&#153. Regardless, it misses the point IF it’s intended as a long-term solution. More on that in a moment.

I’m not quite sure how liability protection for makers of MTBE is a good idea. If they’re contaminating water in two dozen states, it’s probably not smart to sweep that under the rug and say “Oops. Do over.” I need to get better informed, but that’s just a hunch. Especially when it comes with $2,000,000,000 in “You made a bad, harmful business decision, but we’re going to look the other way while we you fix it” handouts. Nice job.

I’m not even going to bother swinging at the daylight-saving time nonsense, as Kip over at A Stitch in Haste already dismantled that idea with this post. Definitely read it. (And stick around and read his other posts, too. You’ll be glad you did.)

As for giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “clear authority to override states and local officials in locating liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminals”, I can only interpret that with basic logic. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a For Citizens – LNG Overview, which offers this information specific to that provision:

Where do ships unload LNG?

Ships unload LNG at specially designed terminals where the LNG is pumped from the ship to insulated storage tanks at the terminal. LNG is also converted back to gas at the terminal, which is connected to natural gas pipelines that transport the gas to where it is needed. Specially designed trucks may also be used to deliver LNG to other storage facilities in different locations.

Oh. That’s nice. We need that. There’s the obvious question, of course, which this provision clarifies. Where should we place that terminal? What we now know is that if the Senate agrees and President Bush signs, this will go wherever the federal bureaucrats urban planners decide. No community decisions necessary. How is this smart? All bow before the Federal government, I guess.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan did weigh in on this. When asked, he offered this:

This is a comprehensive piece of legislation, and it does address one of the fundamental problems facing our nation, and that is that we are growing more dependent on foreign sources of energy. And we have high energy prices facing consumers because we have not had a national energy plan in place. We have a growing global economy and a growing demand from countries around the world for oil. And we are relying on foreign sources of energy. And that’s why the President believes it is all the more reason we need to act now. He put forward a plan four years ago, and it’s time for Congress to get that passed.

The key to solving any problem is to define it correctly. Once you do that, the solution becomes possible. Mr. McClellan, and by extension, President Bush, are wrong on the problem. It’s not that we are “growing more dependent on foreign sources of energy.” While that may be true, it isn’t the issue. Framing the problem that way only encourages solutions like drilling for oil in Alaska.

The problem is that we are relying on the wrong sources of energy. (I’m including the wrong mix of sources in this explanation, solely as a simplification.) Our current energy usage has severe political baggage, which is what Mr. McClellan’s statement conveys. Fine, we get it, but don’t pit this as an us-against-them ploy. The global economy is here, whether we like it or not. That our political situation and energy needs aren’t meshed demands a better response than a “circle the wagons” self-reliance isolationism.

President Bush claims to support alternate sources of energy. I’m willing to believe him to an extent until proven to the contrary. The quest for non-petroleum based energy sources is young, and the president stated that the nation should explore this. Mr. McClellan hinted that this energy plan does not meet President Bush’s agenda. If we’re going to offer incentives (not that we should; just that we are), let’s do it wisely. How will President Bush work with the Congress to resolve this? Will he veto this energy bill if it comes before him without any significant changes from the Senate? I’m anxious to know.

I have no idea of the exact solution, but perpetuating the old paradigm (I have an MBA; I need to use 10&#162 buzzwords.) with a mix of handouts for old ideas and new federal power-grabs isn’t the answer.