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Energy policy runs on empty


THERE ARE three basic ways of improving the nation's energy situation. We can produce more oil to cut dependence on imports; we can increase fuel efficiency to conserve oil; we can develop alternative energy sources. Only the first of the three seems to interest a Senate Energy Committee evidently afflicted with tunnel vision.

The national energy bill approved by the committee calls for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling (at heavy environmental cost).

But the proposed requirement to raise automotive fuel-efficiency standards was dropped from the bill. As for encouraging alternative energy development, this is (to put in Washingtonese) a non-starter.

There are strong arguments against permitting oil and gas drilling in the Wildlife Refuge. Environmentalists worry, with good reason, that this would severely impact on the last strip of U.S. Arctic shoreline unmarred by commercial development.

But we need the oil, proponents of drilling say. Over the long term, they are right. Yet demand for new oil could be markedly reduced by intensive fuel conservation; automotive, especially, but in heating and industrial uses as well. Arctic drilling could be indefinitely postponed; the oil won't go away.

In any case, the Senate certainly should not accept drilling in the Wildlife Refuge unless higher fuel economy standards are included in the measure.

We believe that far more attention should be paid to the development of alternatives -- especially renewable alternatives such as ethanol from grain. Solar, wind, methane gas, the tides, the Earth's heat and so on should all be developed as energy sources.

We must broaden our energy base.

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