Addicted to Oil: The Bush Legacy

07/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

President George W. Bush came into office as the "oil president," then immediately following September 11, he became the "war president." But he is now returning to his roots by defiantly pushing oil exploration due to rising gas prices. Bush wants Congress to open up offshore lands and protected Alaskan areas for oil and gas extraction. On Monday, he lifted a presidential moratorium on drilling for oil and natural gas on the Outer Continental Shelf.

"The time for action is now," Mr. Bush said with customary bluster from the Rose Garden. "Failure to act is unacceptable," he continued, pointing the finger at all those Prius-driving Democrats in Congress for being obstructionists. By his action, he was removing an executive order that had been first issued by his father in 1990.

Ultimately, oil and blood don't always mix in that family.

By saying that Congress was "the only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources," Bush was peddling a lie by promising instant relief at the pump.

There's a lot wrong with the picture that Bush painted in the Rose Garden. And it's not just due to the potential for environmental degradation, including oil spills and the destruction of marine life, but because the fossil fuel in the ground will take years to remove and won't have any effect on today's prices at the pump. Nor will the gas or oil recovered amount to more than three or five percent of America's energy needs.

When it comes to oil, the Republicans are pumping up the volume to the dismay of Democrats. In his role as industry cheerleader, Bush is pure Texan crude by playing partisan politics with petrol. Unlike some other members of the Bush clan who made a tidy fortune drilling for oil, the young George W. was a Lone Star wash-out when it came to running his own oil-drilling and energy businesses. The money he did make was from investors, dubious business connections, and by heavily leaning on family connections to bail him out when he encountered financial difficulties. Plenty of shady accounting practices facilitated the transfer of funds into W's pockets during his tenure as a West Texas oilman. (The late Molly Ivins presented a well-told tale of his business affairs in her book Bushwhacked.)

So, it's hard to take much stock in whatever Bush has to say about oil or energy policy. His stance on this issue have always been entropic, misguided, and typically wrong. Remember how his administration kept insisting that money for the war in Iraq was going to be paid out in Iraqi oil revenues? That fiction was immediately put to rest within months of "Mission Accomplished" when Al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents began blowing up pipelines. Five years later, only a fraction of Iraq's decrepit refineries and pumping are fully functioning.

That is not to say that oil and gas giants like Chevron, BP, and Exxon haven't profited obscenely during the Bush years. They are delightfully bobbing on a sea of tax credits and record profits.

When Bush came into office, a gallon of gas cost about a buck and a half. When he vacates the Oval Office, don't be surprised if a gallon tops off above $5, maybe $6. Which means that within the space of eight years, it will cost four times as much to fill up your vehicle.

Rather than push for energy conservation or even decrying global climate change, Bush's tepid, do-nothing-now response to the crisis has always been dangerously reckless and shortsighted. Ethanol-based fuel is essentially a crock, and is only driving up the price of food. Bush loves the idea of hydrogen-cell fueled vehicles, but that is only one approach amid a spate of tomorrow's solutions, and by tomorrow, we're talking another decade at the earliest. Meanwhile, the technology for increased solar and wind power is available now but is regretfully under-utilized.

On the topic of greenhouse gases, this administration is all hot air. Under Bush's watch, the EPA has been marginalized and politicized, with scientific recommendations being inked out in offical reports and replaced by specious assertions. You can sense Cheney's fingerprints everywhere in this chain-of-command. And now that the Clean Air Act was just declared immune from regulating greenhouse gases, you must wonder at the continued chutzpa or blindness of the White House which denies the obvious: the earth is heating up faster than an electric chair on Texas death row.

When the White House rejected the EPA's previous suggestion that the 1970 Clean Air Act was an effective for addressing global climate change, press secretary Dana Perino said President Bush is committed to further reductions but there is a "right way and a wrong way to deal with climate change."

Bush's way has been to reject the notion of seriously considering climate change, though he has come around recently to suggest that something should be done. Just not now. Judging by his actions at the Group of Eight conference in Japan, something (hopefully) will be done to cut emissions -- by year 2050. When it will be much too late.

Sounding more and more like Al Gore, who presciently raised the alarm of global warming, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger voiced his concerns that the Bush administration did not believe it should do anything about global warming On ABC's This Week he maintained that any move at this point against climate change would lack meaning. "If they would have done something this year, I would have thought it was bogus anyway," he said. "You don't really have an effect by doing something six months before you leave office. It doesn't sound to me believable at all. The sincerity is not there."

So we are back to square one, with the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, Stephen Johnson, calling for renewed public comment on greenhouse gases and climate change. We don't need any more public comments! We need decisive action -- by reducing our foreign and domestic dependency on oil and gas.

During his 2006 State of the Union Address, President Bush said, "In this decisive year, we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil." Guess what? Bush still can't kick the habit. And he doesn't want America to do so either.