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Publication: Conservative Review
A Step Back From Enviro Lunacy

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                   July 29, 2008

A Step Back From Enviro Lunacy
by Michael Barone

Sometimes public opinion doesn't flow smoothly; it shifts 
sharply when a tipping point is reached. Case in point: 
gas prices. $3 a gallon gas didn't change anybody's mind 
about energy issues. $4 a gallon gas did. Evidently, the 
experience of paying more than $50 for a tankful gets 
people thinking we should stop worrying so much about 
global warming and the environmental dangers of oil wells 
on the outer continental shelf and in Alaska. Drill now! 
Nuke the caribou!

Our system of divided government and litigation-friendly 
regulation makes it hard for our society to do things and 
easy for adroit lobbyists and lawyers to stop them. 
Nations with more centralized power and less democratic 
accountability find it easier: France and Japan generate 
most of their electricity by nuclear power and Chicago, 
where authority is more centralized and accountability 
less robust than in most of the country, depends more on 
nuclear power than almost all the rest of the nation.


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In contrast, lobbyists and litigators for environmental 
restriction groups have produced energy policies that I 
suspect future generations will regard as lunatic. We 
haven't built a new nuclear plant for some 30 years, 
since a Jane Fonda movie exaggerated their dangers. We 
have allowed states to ban oil drilling on the outer 
continental shelf, prompted by the failure of 40- or 
50-year-old technology in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1969, 
though current technology is much better, as shown by the 
lack of oil spills in the waters off Louisiana and 
Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina.

We have banned oil drilling on a very small portion of 
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that is godforsaken 
tundra (I have been to the North Slope oil fields, 
similar terrain -- I know) for fear of disturbing a herd 
of caribou -- a species of hoofed animals that is in no 
way endangered or scarce.

The ANWR ban is the work of environmental restriction 
groups that depend on direct-mail fundraising to pay their 
bills and keep their jobs. That means they must always 
claim the sky is falling. They can't get people to send a 
check or mouse-click a donation because they did a good 
job, the restrictions they imposed on the Alaska pipeline 
in the 1970s have done a good job in preserving the enviro-
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ANWR is a precious cause for them because it can be por-
trayed (dishonestly) as a national treasure and because 
the pressure for drilling there has been unrelenting. 
Democrats have enlisted solidly in their army, and they 
have also been able to recruit Republicans who wanted to 
get good environmental scorecards to impress enviro-
conscious voters in states like Florida, New Jersey and 

Now all that is in danger, because the pain of paying $60 
for a tank of gas has convinced most Americans to worry 
less about the caribou or the recurrence of an oil spill 
that happened 39 years ago. Democratic leaders are prevent-
ing Congress from voting on continental shelf and ANWR 
drilling or oil shale development because they fear their 
side would lose and are making the transparently absurd 
claim that drilling won't lower the price of oil. They're 
scampering to say that they would allow drilling somewhere 
-- mostly in places where the oil companies haven't found 
any oil.

In a country with less in the way of checks and balances, 
which can be gamed by adroit lobbyists and litigators, we 
would be building more nuclear plants, and would be drill-
ing offshore and in ANWR. We would be phasing out the corn 
ethanol subsidies that are enriching Iowa farmers and im-
poverishing Mexican tortilla eaters, and we would be re-
pealing the 54-cent tariff on Brazilian sugar ethanol (the 
sugar for which would be produced not in defoliated Amazon 
rainforests but in the desolate and currently unused certao).

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On balance, of course, I prefer our system over the more 
centralized, less accountable systems of France and Japan 
(and Barack Obama's Chicago). But it sure does have its 

But it also has its benefits: Public opinion, when it has 
changed as it has with $4 gas, has an effect. Environmental 
restrictionists like Al Gore have been selling a form of 
secular religion: We have sinned against Mother Earth, we 
must atone and suffer, there can be no argument, but we 
must have faith.

That was an appealing argument to many, perhaps most, 
Americans when gas was selling for $1.40. It has a much 
more limited appeal now that gas is selling for $4.10. 
The time may be coming when our lunatic environmental 
policies are swept away by a rising tide of common sense. 

Questions? Comments? email: mailto:buckley@gophercentral.com   
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