I guess if I have to pick one person to blame for our current energy crisis, it would have to be Newt Gingrich. One of his first acts in taking control of Congress after the Conservative Revolution of 1994 was to pass a rider on the Transportation appropriations bills. As the Times reports.
Congressional Republicans made matters worse in 1995, when they attached a rider to a huge appropriations bill forbidding the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from spending any money to raise fuel standards. That law, in effect until 2001, made any change in CAFE standards impossible, says Representativeve Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has pushed for better fuel efficiency.
Now Gingrich refuses to admit he did anything wrong, because, “our culture favors driving long distances in powerful vehicles and the car as a social expression.” Not that Gingrich is the only brain-dead pseudo-psychologist on Capitol Hill. Here’s John Dingell who has faithfully protected his Auto Company constituents for 30 years.
“The American auto industry has sold the cars people wanted,” he says. “You’re going to blame the auto industry for that or the American consumer? He likes it sitting in his driveway, he likes it big, he likes it safe.”
So all of this head in the sand stupidity will have to change. Our fuel standards will have to climb like the rest of the world (see chart). The simplest way is to charge a gasoline tax like most other developed countries. But that’s not the end of the American way of life, as the head of Shell Oil makes clear.
Consumers overseas might not like higher taxes on gasoline, but they’ve adapted, says Jeroen van derVeer, chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, the European energy giant. “A society can work, can function and can grow even at higher fuel prices,” he says. “It’s a way of life — you get used to it.”
In Mr. van derVeer’s native Holland, for example, gasoline sells for more than $10 a gallon, with $5.57 of that going to taxes. Even in Britain, which has substantial North Sea production, gasoline sells for $8.71 a gallon.
We will get through this Interregnum. It will be more painful that most politicians are letting on. But the creativity of America should not be doubted. In the meantime we can buy the new energy conservation technology from Japan, who started getting their energy act together 30 years ago.