THE HILL 07/10/08
By Michael Shank

That Congress is pressuring oil companies to “use it or lose it” on public lands is understandable enough given constituent discontent with rocketing petrol prices (article, “Energy bill out of gas,” July 8). But this narrow and nebulous agenda is near-sighted for two reasons.

First, oil companies are not simply sitting on sites yet failing to drill. Far from it. Simply ask the American oilers in the Gulf of Mexico who plum the waters miles deep in the most expensive search for new pools of petroleum. At $500,000 a day for rig rentals, the search is undoubtedly pricey. If untapped and unprotected public land held cheaper supplies, oil companies would be quick to quarry.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the “use it or lose it” approach is not being applied to all energy sectors – renewable energy included. Refusing to “use it,” the U.S. is about to “lose it” in the solar industry.

Not only does Congress look ready to not renew the tax credit, due to expire at the end of this year, but the Bureau of Land Management put a 22-month moratorium on all new solar energy plans on public lands [which it recently rescinded]. The result of such obvious obfuscating: the solar industry in China and the European Union will prosper while America’s plummets.

Losing it, financially speaking, will be an understatement if the U.S. government proceeds apace with both plans. Senate sentiment to suspend the renewable energy tax credit is completely nonsensical. If “three-quarters of the American people support the increased production of American-made energy,” as noted by a senior Republican aide, then wind and solar should receive a fair shake because this country has plenty.

Oil has been preferentially treated at roughly $250 billion a year in subsidies, says former CIA director and green convert Jim Woolsey, and to level the playing field for solar and wind is critical. Moreover, the BLM moratorium masqueraded as environmental protectionism when such green governance has never been so stringently applied to coal, oil or gas. Why the solar sector now?

Before America completely undermines its energy future by dealing devastating blows to the renewable energy industry, and notably solar, perhaps a rethink is needed on the true meaning behind “use it or lose it.”

From Michael Shank, Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University

Arlington, Va.