Governor Rick Perry made a big display of presenting his energy policy last Friday. He positioned it as a bold new plan for America, but this "drill, baby, drill" approach to energy was already stale when Sarah Palin stumped for it three years ago.
It's is déjà vu all over again. We've had a Texas oilman in charge of our country's energy policy: it worked out a lot better for Big Oil than it did for the American people. We wound up paying $4 a gallon at the pump while Exxon walked off with $45 billion in profits.
Now Perry is offering more of the same. I think the familiarity is part of the appeal. His campaign is going for the safe, tested messages here -- the proven buzz words that poll well across a broad spectrum of the Republican Party.
When you have seriously considered seceding from the union and you deny the existence of climate change, your Tea Party credentials are pretty secure. To win in the general election, however, you need the conventional GOP voters, too. Perry can pick and chose from this "all of the above" approach to energy to appeal to whichever audience he is speaking to at the time: the mainstream and the radical fringe.
That may be savvy campaigning, but it doesn't do much for America.
Perry's plan calls for pursuing fossil fuels to the ends of the Earth. He wants companies to drill miles under the Arctic Ocean for oil and inject fracking chemicals deep into peoples' backyards to bring up natural gas.
We can look in new and more extreme places for fuel, but Perry's plan boils down to this: burning rocks to create energy. It's the same technology we've been using for 200 years. Where is the innovation? Where is the vision that will carry America into the 21st century? Where is the leadership?
The rest of the world is racing to design the most cost-effective solar panels and most reliable wind turbines, because they know clean technologies will generate clean power AND lots of money. Worldwide clean energy investments were valued at $243 billion in 2010.
Perry's plan disregards these market realities, and by doing so, hands over dominance of the clean energy market to China. He's selling America short in a field we could actually lead in favor of one we never will: oil production.
Perry's call for homegrown energy has a great ring to it, but when your home only has 1.6 percent of the globe's proven oil reserves and you consume 26 percent of the world's supply, there is a limit to what you can achieve--no matter how many wells you sink. That's not politics; it's geology. And no bumper-sticker slogan can change it.
America is already drilling more than we have in decades. Perry claims that President Obama has blocked domestic oil production, but companies drilled almost 21,000 oil wells in the first eight months of this year -- the highest number in almost 30 years.
That's nearly double the amount drilling the same period last year, and nearly triple the number drilled in 2009.
Yet none of this protected us from $4-a-gallon gasoline this spring. Nor will it protect us from China's growing demand, Middle Eastern politics, or any of the other forces the shape the global oil market.
That's where the innovation comes in. Better performing cars will reduce our oil dependence, and smarter policies will encourage technological advances. This summer President Obama's announced new fuel efficiency standards. By 2025, new cars and light trucks in this county will go about twice as far, on average, on a gallon of gas, compared with today's vehicles. The difference will save Americans $80 billion a year at the pump. It will also reduce our oil use by 3.1 million barrels per day by 2030 and cut automobile carbon emissions in half.
Now that's a new direction for America, a way to move into greater energy security, cleaner air, and more prosperity. Perry's plan is a retread. Sticking to the energy sources we have used for two centuries may help his campaign, but it won't do much for our country.