THE BLOG
08/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Our Forlorn Energy Secretary Sam Bodman Takes On Tom Friedman

"We must pursue real solutions, not demagoguery or clever rhetoric."

There, take that Tom Friedman!

Thus hath spoken our forlorn Secretary of Energy Sam Bodman in riposte (letter to editor NY Times 07.27.08) to Tom Friedman's pungently critical treatise (NY Times Op-ed "9/11 and 4/11" 07.20.08) on this administrations gross mishandling of the nations energy crisis. To quote Friedman

"...we have a president and vice president who deny that climate change is hurting our environmental body, who refuse to see the connection between the dollars we are sending abroad and the rise of petro-dictators...who are apparently untroubled by the sharp decline in the dollar , partly because all the money we are paying for oil imports". Friedman goes on to cite Al Gore's proposal for "dramatically improving our national electricity grid and energy efficiency while investing massively in clean solar, wind, geothermal and carbon sequestered technologies."

Bodman, perhaps waking from his slumber, was clearly taken aback. Why, he intoned we've spent $12 billion "to advance alternative energy sources including solar, wind, biofuels and nuclear power" not to speak of fuel efficiency standards and on. Now this coming from the head of our Department of Energy, an agency that has overseen and stood steadfastly idle as the price of oil escalated during this administration's time at the helm from $22 a barrel in 2001 to $145 some two weeks ago. Using the difference between then and now, and using the price as of this writing of $122 per barrel leaving a difference between now and then of $100 per each barrel of oil. With US consumption of 21 million barrels of oil a day that is a difference of $2.1 billion per day or $63 billion per month or some $750 billion/year more, I repeat the word 'more,' flowing to oil interests both here and abroad at today's price levels when compared to the sums that were being transferred eight years ago.

All the while Mr. Bodman and his Energy Department are clucking away at the nations beleaguered consumers, intoning the mantra that is becoming recognized as defining the way to address someone when you want them to know you think they are an idiot, namely "its all about market forces of supply and demand." As though OPEC, willfully limiting and manipulating the supply of oil had nothing to do with its price. And that there is no evidence of manipulation nor undue speculation in the trading of oil contracts on the commodity exchanges, citing the findings of the that toothless "see ,hear, and speak no evil" watchdog the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) thereby selling the beleaguered American consumer a phony bill of goods.

Mr. Friedman's protagonist came to his post at the Department of Energy with the following send off from President Bush "Sam Bodman has shown himself to be a problem solver who knows how to set goals and he knows how to reach them." Bodman, in the ineffable style of the Bush administration appointments, had virtually no direct energy experience and whose nomination was widely greeted by a befuddled "Sam who?" Shortly thereafter Mr. Bodman now head of the Energy Department of the world's major oil consumer would venture to instruct a Senate Committee "that the capability of any member of this government to influence members of OPEC is limited" and went on to suggest he had more important things to worry about, "I have a lot on my plate" he told the panel in a particularly brilliant display of coming to grips with the essence of the oil markets' dynamic.

And then there is the Strategic Oil Reserve which his Department of Energy has continued to fill willy nilly totally oblivious to what their purchases are doing to market prices, the economy and OPEC's perception of our seriousness in holding the line on oil prices. It literally took an act of Congress to get him and his department to desist from continuing one of the great oil patch boondoggles. To quote Senator Dorgan, "Not only are taxpayers being fleeced by paying that much for oil, but the effect of taking valuable oil like sweet crude oil off the market has a disproportionate effect on crude prices." Far be it for Secretary Bodman to understand the madcap signal being sent to the marketplace by the ongoing purchases of oil at escalating prices. Not to speak of his department's input toward one of the most disastrous policy turns of this administration, the doubling of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve announced during the President's State of the Union Address in January 2007 just as oil prices were dramatically receding, touching $49.90 a barrel.

Especially discomforting is the Department's obsequiousness to their OPEC drillmasters. This was exemplified on May 2, 2006 at a gathering of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Washington research group. There, Saudi Arabia's oil minister and putative leader of OPEC, Ali al-Naimi was received in a manner worthy of a Wehrmacht general in occupied Paris. Signaling his submission, Mr. Bodman seated next to Al-Naimi assured him that the administration was opposed to the bill (the NOPEC bill) in Congress that would have opened the door to anti-trust suits against OPEC by removing the sovereign immunity exemption. He thereby extended carte blanche to OPEC's machinations, chalking up another one for OPEC's cheerleaders in the US oil industry, while the American consumer was left to express his outrage at the local gas pump.

But the most damning incidence is in Bodman's letter itself because it gives a frightening picture of this administration and its Department of Energy's priorities. Since the start of this administration in 2001 the federal government through its oil industry embassy, the US Department of Energy has spent $12 billion to research develop and promote alternative energy sources. This while literally hundreds of billions, no sorry, not billions but rather trillions over that period have been drained away from American industry and consumers by an acquiescent administration and somnolent Department of Energy in the grotesque super profits and benefits being transfered to oil interests worldwide.

Yes that $12 billion expended over eight years referred to in Secretary Bodman's letter is a lot of money indeed. Why it is even slightly more than one third of the $30 billion mustered over one weekend and set aside for the Bear Stearns bailout, not to speak of the additional billions to bail the share holders of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac among other Wall Street sinkholes, monies expended to prop up institutions and organizations where this administration has real money and its real supporters on the line.

Mr. Bodman goes on in his admonition of Mr. Friedman citing the fuel efficiency standards put in place by the administration. Perhaps as a courtesy to Mr. Bodman it would be best not to go into too much detail here, given the lame and late dimensions of that initiative. As to the "real solutions" that Mr. Bodman espouses, it would have been best to lead by meaningful example which to date are sorely lacking. As to his chastisement of Mr. Friedman's "clever rhetoric," better that, than rhetoric that takes us all for fools.