Have you seen the television spots produced by oil companies? If so, you might be under the impression they were in the business of selling sunflowers and good vibes rather than energy.
In general, oil executives have done a horrid job of defending their industry, opening themselves up to fact-deprived populist attacks that ignore the complexities of the energy mess.
This week's sham of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing saw Big Oil executives from Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron and three other companies take the stand. With quivering voices, they explained basic economic principles to Senate demagogues, who incidentally bear far more responsibility for high prices than the execs themselves.
The lead demagogue, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, leveled numerous preposterous charges. He claimed that there is a "disconnect" between supply and demand and the gasoline prices that consumers are wrestling with at the pump.
Leahy, one hopes, knows that oil companies have little to do with the price of oil per barrel. He knows full well that they can't control OPEC production or Hugo Chavez or the dramatic increase in oil demand by China, India and other developing nations. So in this case, the only "disconnect" is between facts and Sen. Leahy.
Most of the senators moaned about "profits" — a topic that has nothing to do with the fundamental problems we face. And though $40 billion in profit sounds massive to us, in the context of the entire fossil fuel industry, it's far less magnificent.
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania asked "why profits have gone up so high, when the consumer is suffering so much." Good question. Perhaps Specter also can ask why government seizes more in profit per gallon of gas than the wicked oil companies. Then he might want to discuss why Congress continues to obstruct the search for more energy and the import of smart energy.
— Start with ethanol (the good kind): The massive farm bill — supported by every senator on the Judiciary Committee — continues the policy of applying high tariffs on Brazilian sugar-based ethanol to protect American companies. Instead of opening this market, Congress is continuing mandates and subsidies for corn-based ethanol (the bad kind). That's a price consumers pay whether they want to or not.
— Talk about nuclear energy: The cleanest viable large-scale energy source available to us already provides about 20 percent of our electricity. Congress has done little to promote more use. Leahy's state of Vermont enjoys this clean and relatively cheap energy. Why not the rest of us?
— Talk about exploration: Any mention of drilling in the tundra of Alaska incites apoplectic reactions. Yet a sliver of land in Alaska's 19.6 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could yield 10 billion barrels of oil. It wouldn't dramatically affect prices in the short term, but the long-term benefits are clear and numerous.
— Talk about refineries: Can we get a new one? Please? It's been 35 years.
So what has Congress come up with instead? It creates unrealistic expectations about renewable energies (and some have great futures) and advocates for punitive "windfall profit" taxes to diverge more money from private industry to centralized government.
How any of this helps consumers or alleviates foreign energy reliance is a mystery.
"Stop ripping off the American people. Ride your bike to work, everybody," yelled a protester from the far-left group Code Pink at oil executives. (She undoubtedly had just pedaled her 10-speed to Washington from Fantasia.)
Riding bikes out of necessity — as folks in Third World countries do — is exactly what we can look forward to if energy policy continues to appease the Code Pink crowd rather than help the American people.
David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of "Nanny State." Visit his website at www.DavidHarsanyi.com. To find out more about David Harsanyi and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.