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It's Just What the Spin Doctor Ordered on Oil


The president, never shy about playing the increasingly dogeared national security card for political gain, is now using the growing crisis in the Middle East to justify his renewed call for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Adding fuel to the fire was Saddam Hussein's decision to cut off Iraqi oil exports for up to 30 days--an economic scud missile that prompted the president to declare that the oil from ANWR "is needed more than ever."

For his part, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said he planned to respond to this crisis by meeting with officials of the American Automobile Assn. to talk about ways drivers might cut down on oil consumption--things like not leaving the engine of your SUV idling while waiting to pick up your Big Mac in the drive-thru lane. I can already hear the new Happy Meal jingle: "Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, Saddam's threats don't upset us."

Helpful hints like that are all well and good, but if Abraham really wants to make America less vulnerable to the oily schemes of someone like Hussein, he should put his AAA plans in neutral and shift into high gear on something that we all know will work: raising mileage standards.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 16, 2002 Home Edition California Part B Page 13 Metro Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Oil-In an Arianna Huffington column Friday, the reference to the amount of oil that could have been saved if legislation had passed to increase fuel standards should have been 2.5 million barrels, not 2.5 billion.

But instead of supporting last month's modest effort by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) to gradually increase fuel standards over the next 13 years, the White House helped kill the plan, which would have saved about 2.5 billion barrels of oil a day, roughly the amount we currently import from the Middle East. Apparently, the first casualties of this new crisis have been the administration's short-term memory and truth-telling skills.

So much for leading a charge to help us thumb our noses at Persian Gulf potentates.

The White House would much rather pursue its obsession with drilling in ANWR--a fixation that reached new heights this week with the Great Caribou Study Flip-Flop, a brazen example of manipulation of the media and political damage control.

After the U.S. Geological Survey, a fact-finding agency within the Interior Department, released a report maintaining that drilling in ANWR would pose a serious hazard to wildlife, a dismayed Interior Secretary Gale Norton prodded the scientists to reevaluate their conclusions and report back within 10 days.

The initial USGS study had been 12 years in the making. But Norton-quality science is obviously much speedier--the amended analysis was delivered in seven days, just in time for this week's Senate debate on the energy bill. And, in two pages as opposed to the original's 78, the revised report conveniently concluded that Bush's drilling proposal would have little or no impact on wildlife, particularly the thousands of Porcupine caribou that populate the Arctic refuge.

But the highly expedient revision was never about the actual effect of drilling on caribou calving rates. It was all about headlines--and on that front the White House got exactly what it wanted. One was "Limited Arctic Drilling Won't Harm Caribou, Scientists Say" after the dubious do-over. Just what the spin doctor ordered.

If the president is truly sincere about freeing us from our dependence on foreign oil, he would forget about the negligible amounts of oil in ANWR and get serious about conservation and the promotion of alternative sources of energy.

Indeed, all you really need to know about where the administration stands on the subject can be found in documents recently unearthed by a court order. It turns out the White House dipped into the Department of Energy's already meager funds for renewables and energy conservation--budgets Team Bush plans to slash by half--to come up with more than $135,000 for the printing of 10,000 copies of its industry-friendly energy plan.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called Hussein's crude ploy "a reminder about the need for America to have an energy policy that is independent of such threats."

But what we need even more urgently is an energy policy independent of the wishes, goals and manipulations of the oil industry and its slick friends in the White House.


Arianna Huffington writes a syndicated column. E-mail: arianna

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