AUSTIN, Texas -- When the history of this administration is written, I suspect the largest black mark against it will be wasting time. The energy bill just passed by the House is a classic example of frittering away precious time and resources by doing exactly nothing that needs to be done about energy. The bill gives $8.1 billion in new tax breaks to the oil companies, which are already swimming in cash.

ExxonMobil's profits are up 44 percent, Royal Dutch/Shell up 42 percent, etc. According to the business pages, the biggest problem oil executives face is what to do with all their cash. So why give more tax breaks to the oil companies? Makes as much sense as anything else in this energy bill. Nothing about conservation, higher fuel efficiency standards or putting money into renewable energy sources. It's so stupid, it's painful.

And their genius answer to "energy independence"? Drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Look, the total oil under ANWR is 1 billion barrels less than this country uses in a year, according to Robert Bryce, the Texas journalist who specializes in energy reporting. The bill is just riddled with perversity: We continue to subsidize people who buy Hummers, but no longer grant tax rebates to those who buy hybrid cars that are more than six times as fuel efficient. This is not how you get to "energy independence." The United States hit its oil peak back in 1970 -- domestic production has been declining ever since.

I'm not sure I've ever seen anything quite as odd as the right wing's insistence that global warming does not exist. I'm not a climatologist, but I can read what they're saying. In fact, they're screaming it. Rush Limbaugh is not a climatologist, either, nor are any of the rest of these pinheads who seem to think the whole thing is some figment of liberals' imagination.

There's nothing liberal about global warming, it's science. There seems to be some element of childish spite in the refusal to recognize it -- "Boy, we can drive the liberals crazy by pretending it's not happening, ha, ha, ha." If you read right-wing blogs, you find a kind of Beavis and Butthead attitude about the subject, a sort of adolescent-jerk humor. What's astonishing is finding the same attitude among members of Congress. Head-militantly-in-sand is not a solution.

There is a perfect convergence of economic, environmental and energy considerations that all point in the same direction: renewable energy sources. With demand for gasoline soaring worldwide, with the economies of both China and India growing at staggering paces, with the world somewhere near its oil peak now, our dependence on some of the world's most retrograde regimes is only going to get worse and more expensive.

Foreign policy also plays a role here. Let us pass quickly by the administration's pre-war assurances that Iraqi oil would pay for the war -- the country is pumping less now than it did under Saddam Hussein. How smart is it to dick around trying to oust the president of Venezuela? You put a bunch of ideological nutcases in charge of Latin American policy, and you're going to create a lot of enemies down there.

And their answer is to bring back nukes? Let's review the bidding on that one. Aside from Murphy's Law, the problem with nukes is that they create radioactive waste that remains toxic for tens of thousands of years. And we don't know what to do with it. The First Rule of Holes applies -- if you're stuck in one, stop digging. We're already dependent on one form of energy that has a toxic legacy, why in heaven's name walk into another one, this time with foreknowledge of its effects? Especially when there are cheap, reliable, renewable, non-poison-producing alternatives? We're nuts to even think about it. Wind power already has near competitive prices.

Renewable energy sources are not pie-in-the-sky -- they're here right now, and they're going to be a lot cheaper than oil. The single cheapest thing we can do about oil is not use so much of it. Current hybrid technology will not get us to the mythical goal of "energy independence," but at least we can slow down the demand for oil. In theory, it only takes 15 years to replace the entire fleet of American cars now on the road. We don't have another four years to waste.

American energy policy -- written by Beavis and Butthead.

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