As another Earth day dawns, Americans can reflect upon a host of environmental success stories. Citizens across the nation are breathing cleaner air, drinking cleaner water, and have less exposure to dangerous toxic compounds than they did 25 years ago.
Unfortunately, the Clinton-Gore administration cannot let go of the old-fashioned command-and control approach to environmental regulation, which jeopardizes our ability to make further progress. Gasoline prices have risen 50-60 cents per gallon over the past six months. Even with an increase in production by OPEC, prices will remain at least 25 percent higher than they were a year ago. In 1974, net imports of crude oil supplied about 35 percent of U.S. consumption. Imports now supply about 55 percent of U.S. petroleum consumption, the highest percentage ever.
In contrast, domestic production has plummeted. Since 1992, production of oil in the United States dropped by 17 percent, and over the past decade, the number of working oil rigs fell from 657 to 153.
The Clinton-Gore administration has done little to reduce prices paid by consumers, other than go hat in hand to the Middle East. They have done nothing to reduce our independence on foreign oil. Rather, the administration's energy policy has increased the cost of gasoline and discouraged domestic production.
In 1993, the Clinton-Gore administration proposed a new energy tax, known as the Btu tax, which would have added 7.5 cents to the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Congress balked at the Btu tax, forcing the administration to settle for a new 4.3 cents per gallon gas tax, which passed only with the deciding vote of Vice President Gore. The federal gas tax is now more than 18 cents per gallon.
In California, where we enjoy a projected $10 billion surplus, our state gas tax is based on the price of gasoline inclusive of federal taxes. This double taxation has caused our gas prices to be among the highest in the country.
That's double taxation with no hope of representation. Within the past few weeks, the Legislature has refused to roll back the California gas tax because they say the price has come down. What right thinking person thinks that $1.77 for gas is acceptable?
The Clinton-Gore administration's energy policy doesn't end with taxes. As prices were soaring last winter, the administration slapped a new regulation on domestic producers. The so-called Tier II mandate requires drastic reductions in the sulfur content of fuels, regardless of need, and is expected to raise gasoline prices by 5-6 cents per gallon over the coming years while costing domestic producers billions.
Just three months later, as oil prices continued to surge, the administration imposed another disincentive to domestic production by raising costs on producers who drill on federal land.
Perhaps nothing demonstrates the administration's failed energy policy more than its unflinching support for the Kyoto Protocol, also known as the UN global warming treaty, This treaty would raise the cost of a gallon of gas by at least 60 cents.
Despite its high cost, the Kyoto Protocol would do little to address the emissions of greenhouse gases that Gore is convinced are causing global warming. The scientific uncertainties of global warming aside, the Kyoto Protocol would inflict enormous economic harm without achieving its intended goal. This is the treaty that Vice President Gore still insists "is market-based and realistic, and does not lead to economic cooling."
This Earth Day, Americans have many environmental successes for which to be grateful. Perhaps we should also be grateful that, despite the Clinton-Gore administration's failed energy policy, gas prices are not even higher-for now.
Mike Vallante is Director of California Citizens for a Sound Economy.