Offshore oil and natural gas


I have very few complaints about our President and the job he’s been doing.  To date, Mr. Obama, while perhaps overreaching at times, has managed to hit the political sweet spot more often than not.  He is, by and large, managing to do the right thing.  His high polling numbers reflect this.  Where he has completely missed the boat, however, is energy policy.  What he is proposing for the country will simply not work.  What the Obama administration has proposed is fantasy, dangerous fantasy.  My critique here is not to declare opposition but to advocate in favor of a course correction.  What’s been proposed is good, indeed, admirable, but it is not sufficient to accomplish the administration’s stated goals.

A couple of recent Op-eds are useful in helping to explain why what Obama is proposing will not work as represented.  The first appeared last week in the Washington Post.  Authored by James Schlesinger and Robert L. Hirsch, it is entitled Getting Real on Wind and Solar.  The second was in this morning’s Washington Post.  It is Robert J. Samuelson’s Selling The Green Economy

As I’ve said many times before on this blog, what the country needs to do, in addition to that which has been advocated by Mr. Obama in incentivizing and encouraging the development of new and clean energy technologies, is to recognize the inevitability of fossil fuels in our economy for the next two decades.  This is cold, hard reality.  Given this reality, the focus needs to be producing more oil and particularly cleaner burning natural gas, here on the North American continent.  For U.S. energy policy to finally succeed the country must face down the twin enemies of overseas imports of oil (this because our transportation sector is so heavily dependent on oil – 96%) and carbon emissions.  Increasing domestic production of both oil and natural gas, while not meeting the second goal–decreasing carbon emissions–, is our only viable alternative if we are to succeed with goal number one — decreasing foreign imports.  It will be through our climate change policy that we reduce emissions either through implementation of a cap and trade system or a carbon tax.  This will be what reduces our use of fossil fuels.  In the meantime, moving more energy production onshore in North America not only increases domestic energy security, it gives our economy a gigantic boost in the form of dollars circulating in America instead of being shipped abroad.  We can no longer afford the money drain.

Environmental groups and their followers need to lose the certainty that supporting domestic production, offshore and onshore, is yielding to the enemy.  It isn’t.  It is facing the fact that the country can no longer afford foreign imports, which is and has been for years the default when domestic production is stymied.  Instead, we need to bring the production home and focus on reducing carbon emissions through enactment of workable climate change legislation.  It can work.  We simply need to make it national policy. 

To say I was disappointed in President Obama last week is an understatement.  I had hoped that his promise of change meant a more sincere effort to develop public policy rationally and less ideologically.  I’d had enough of ideological driven policy under President Bush.  I hoped for more under President Obama.  I was wrong, because although our President and government changed, our system dominated by two parties, which engage in mortal combat for power, did not change.  That means that party ideology matters more than rational solutions to America’s problems.  Also not changing was the system’s toleration for policy driven by interest groups within the parties.  The two are highly related, unfortunately.  With appeasement of interest groups comes acceptance of their prescription for changes in public policy, notwithstanding what might be rational or best for the country. 

Vice-President Cheney got no end of criticism for formulating over a number of months a national energy strategy without consulting with environmental groups.  Now, last week we have President Obama announcing a national energy strategy within 5 weeks of his taking office.  There was no pretense of process for forming a new national energy strategy, he and his team just did it.  I can also assure you that as many industry advocates had a share in development of Obama’s plan as there were environmentalists developing Cheney’s.  There have been no screams of outcry this time though.  I guess it’s because environmentalists wear white hats and “big oil” black hats and the former is inherently about protecting the public interest and the other is all about exploiting it for profit.

This is the “change” that Obama has brought to Washington–not change in the way policy is developed but a change in the insiders who are consulted and the corresponding results.  The country is now unconcerned with domestic oil and natural gas development, as was a focus of Bush-Cheney policy, it is now concerned with promoting renewable fuels.  It’s not the change we needed.

I feel very confident in saying that the energy plan announced last week by President Obama won’t work.  Of course, alteration may yet take place that would alleviate some of my concerns, but for now the energy course the President appears to have set is one that’s deeply flawed.  It’s pushing string.  It’s picking winners and losers.  It’s developing a course of action based on an incomplete understanding of the problem.  The result is a plan of action that fulfills special interest fantasies but is almost totally disconnected with reality.  

My prediction is that if Obama pursues the energy policy he announced by virtue of his budget and address to the nation last week domestic oil and natural gas development will wither.  Yes, we will develop more renewable sources of energy, perhaps even matching the President’s goal of doubling the amount of supply from such sources.  Yes, too, we might put more efficient automobiles on the highway and use less gasoline.  But, these steps will not significantly reverse the country’s dependence upon foreign oil which causes so many American dollars, and thus American jobs, to flow overseas.  His policy, in fact, exacerbates the problem by withdrawing all tax incentives for domestic production and, indeed, raising the tax burden.  Actions by Secretary of the Interior Salazar to reduce access to public lands for oil and natural gas development also make things worse.  This means we’ll be producing even less than the inadequate amount produced domestically during the Bush administration.  This can only mean increased importation of oil since the other steps we’re taking are completely inadequate to themselves stem that tide.  The fact is that for the Bush policy of increasing to domestic production to have worked to its potential, the country needed to have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and restricted offshore lands to development.   The Democrats (and a few Northeast Republicans) saw to it that that didn’t happen. 

What the country needs is a “doing it all” approach to energy policy.  It needs to raise gasoline taxes in a revenue neutral way to send a powerful message that oil is not cheap.  Then it needs to encourage domestic production and the incentivization of renewable energy.  It’s yes to it all.  A significant problem is the course of action I’m advocating is that it would be unpopular with environmental groups and President Obama has accepted their worldview by default.  Without ever having been presented the complete picture, our President has apparently made his decisions. 

I had hoped that General Jones would have been at the table in this debate, given his familiarity with the national security consequences of imported oil.  It seems, however, that he wasn’t.  He’s apparently still settling into the job and visiting foreign lands.  He may be as shocked as anyone by the abrupt early announcement of so significant a policy.  My hope for the country is that this debate is not yet over and that maybe General Jones may yet be able to have some influence. 

As I indicated last week, if President Obama’s proposals for health care and education reform are as well thought out as his energy policy, the country is in trouble.  Maybe Obama knows more about the other two, but he clearly knows little about energy.  And the failure here will be not just America’s ability to become a little less dependent upon foreign oil, it could be a political time bomb giving the Republicans a volatile issue just in time for the next elections (2010 and 2012).  If natural gas and oil prices rise as they most certainly will as the world economy revives, the rise in price will be as stunning and as economically shattering as were the price rises of last year.  A public that is just, hopefully, getting its feet back on the ground economically will not be pleased with high energy prices taking money out their wallet.  It will also not be pleased by Obama’s insufficient efforts to increase domestic supply.  It is entirely plausible that a Republican Party that has not yet learned its lessons will be back in power in the House or the Senate or even the White House before the Party is ready.

Let me close with one final observation on the “change” that Obama has apparently brought to Washington.  I hoped for change where the President could sit down and work out differences with opposing interests and, in dialectic fashion, advance a rational agenda.  Instead, you have the American President taunting industry lobbyists in the last few days to bring on the “fight”.  Mr. President, this shouldn’t be about fighting and competition for supremacy, it should be about crafting a policy that works for America.  Our first indication that we’re on the right road will be when both industry AND the environmental groups are equally unhappy.  Clearly that’s not the case and what you’re saying to me is that you’ve made your decision, that you know all that you need to know, and that you’re not willing to listen, all a mere five weeks out of the gate.  Disappointing indeed.

I was confronted with two stories yesterday, seemingly unrelated.  One was about efforts by natural gas exporting countries to create a formal organization that many fear will morph into a natural gas cartel similar to the OPEC oil cartel.  The other was a story sent to me by a friend about the rescue of a humpback whale off of the California coast where at the conclusion of the rescue the whale went to each rescuer and nudged them as if to say thank you.  It is a moving story that reminds us of our responsibility to preserve other forms of life, some perhaps of very high intelligence.  The latter story was from the San Francisco Chronicle dated December 14, 2005 and entitled Daring rescue of whale off Farallones

Receiving both of these stories comes as I’m finally reading a book that I’ve had on my bookshelf for a year now.  I’d seen it on a list last year at this time of the best books of 2007.  It’s entitled The Unnatural History of the Seaand authored by Callum Roberts.

The book tells the story of man’s centuries old abuse of our oceans and its creatures.  What we’re dealing with today is the result of centuries of overfishing and the complete insensitivity of mankind to the environment.  Reading its chapters on the Chesapeake Bay, including the Potomac River, was particularly interesting to me as I live but few minutes walk from the Potomac River in Washington, DC.  The book describes the Chesapeake Bay estuary when it was discovered as overflowing with fish and and other wildlife.  Observing it today one would suppose that nothing lives within its waters, though a few fishermen can be found angling along the banks despite the warnings not to eat more than certain quantities of fish due to the presence of heavy metals.  One certainly doesn’t see whales (including Killer Whales) or porpoises or fish so thick you could pluck them from the water.

That we must take better care of our waters seems very clear.  Living along the Chesapeake Bay estuary as I do and crossing it on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge dozens of times per year, I can think of few things that should be of a higher priority that cleaning up the bay and reestablishing a healthy fishery.  Yet, knowing what I know about offshore drilling, it wouldn’t faze me in the least to drill oil or gas wells into the bay.  I see the two things as completely unrelated.  My biggest concern with drilling would be with the visual impact and I would think that states would need to insist upon either directional drilling from shore (which can be done perfectly safely) or gas-only production from the waters themselves (as there would be no visual impact other than during the relatively short drilling phase).  This is what the Province of Ontario does in the Great Lakes.

Yet we in America, while we continue to drive our 4-wheel drive Suburbans to and from our homes built in suburbia in a manner that completely ignores the impact of runoff from our fertilized lawns on inland and coastal waters, refuse to consider drilling offshore.  It is completely illogical.  It is the kind of disconnect that we expect in an America that gets its information from soundbites rather than from serious inquiry.

This brings me back to the story that a number of countries that produce and export natural gas have created a formal organization that appears to be aimed at created an OPEC-like cartel for natural gas.  With the increase in the transport of liquified natural gas it is becoming more and more a world commodity.  As we in the United States build more import terminals we are at risk of becoming as economically dependent upon natural gas from abroad as we are on oil.

My very strongly held view is that we must first conserve, and secondly produce as much oil and natural gas at home before we import by sea any more oil or natural gas.  That we may soon have another cartel on our hands that aims to manipulate the supply and therefore the price of natural gas should be highly concerning.  It also means more petroleum products on more boats travelling into a ports, not an unrisky thing itself.

My conclusion in all of this is that President Obama has a unique opportunity to create a new energy policy in this country that is for the first time both rational and balanced.  Certainly a Democrat advocating offshore development will have far more credibility with the public than would any Republican becuase of the Democratic Party’s longstanding advocacy for the environment.  There doesn’t exist the suspicion that would exist with Republican leadership, however unjustified, that the decision is just about paying off campaign contributors.  For reasons including national security, the environment, and the economy, the country needs to expand its production of oil and natural gas at one and the same time that it expands development of alternative fuels and reduces the overall use of fossil-based fuels.  The only energy path forward is one that uses all of our energy resources as we transition to a completely new energy future.  For President Obama and the Democrats to squander this opportunity to at last put the country on the road to that rational energy future would be tragic.  There will never be a better time to get it right and it will not mean forsaking the environment.  It will, however, require saying no to irrationality and yes to progress.

When it comes to our environment, and especially our marine environment, we need to pay attention to the real causes of harm to that environment and the real risks of future harm.  Prudent oil and natural gas production incorporating the lasted technology has shown to be extremely safe and non-damaging to the marine environment.  I have toured production platforms in the North Sea and the California coast and know them to have, if anything, a positive impact on their immediate environment.  There will never be a better time than the present to get straight our goals, a clean environment and a sound energy future, and dispense with myths and untruths that muddy the waters of sound policy making. 

Some of us are natural Democrats and some of us are natural Republicans. Some of us are neither.  I suggest that a natural Democrat or Republican is someone who is almost always in total agreement with the party and with all of its various alliances; it is someone who could sign the party’s platform every four years as a statement of personal belief.  I’ve never been that person.  There will always be a number of things with which I would disagree.  More importantly there are affiliations with which I could never agree.  In my case I am offended by the all-to-close relationship between the Republican Party and the Christian right.  I am likewise alienated by the seemingly borderless relationship between organized labor and the Democratic Party.  Sorry, but I like to think for myself.  If being a member of one of our parties means I have to check my views at the door, perhaps “Independent” is destined to be my permanent affiliation.

Echoing the point with which I began, for some people there’s no conflict at all.  They are perfectly comfortable as Democrats swearing fidelity to organized labor or as Republicans attempting to legislate morality.   Have at it folks, I’m glad you’re happy.  I suspect there are also others who might not necessarily agree with certain positions or affiliations but that nonetheless have decided to accept the bad with the good as a political necessity.  The same holds true for anyone elected to the U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate.  If you don’t affiliate with one party or the other, you are nobody: you don’t get committee assignments, you don’t get earmarks, you don’t get squat.  Thus, were a true independent to have been elected a few weeks ago, he/she would have to choose between Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner for Speaker.  What a horrible choice.

This leads me to my real point today.  We have a nominee for Interior Secretary, Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado, who is a supposed centrist.  So far, so good.  But how centrist can you really be when a major tenet of your party is “environmentalism” and a very major constituency is the the environmental community.  It has been my experience that it is a rare Democrat that can say “no” to environmental groups.  Indeed, it is a rare Northeast Republican who can say “no” to environmental groups.  These groups have got too many supporters in too many Congressional districts who’ve been brainwashed into thinking that what’s right for the environment is what these groups pronounce is what’s right for the environment.  It is all but impossible for a Democrat or Northeast Republican to be able to say “no” to them.  They would be taking a big political risk to do so. 

So now we have Senator Salazar nominated to the position of Interior Secretary.  For more information on Senator Salazara and this appointment, read the Washington Post story today entitled Obama to Name Salazar As Secretary of Interior.  First, don’t get me wrong, this is an outstanding appointment, especially if one considers some of the other candidates that had been discussed.  Congressman Grijalva would have been a disaster.  With Senator Salazar we have someone, as I believe we would have had with John Berry, who will make a sincere effort to balance interests in administering an agency with one of the most difficult mandates of any in government.  He is someone, unlike Grijalva, who will say “no” to environmental groups.  My concern is it won’t be often enough.  It won’t be often enough because as a Democrat Salazar simply won’t have the option of saying “no” as often as he should.  He’ll say “yes, but” or “no, but” a lot.  Everything will be a compromise.

What will get shortchanged in this the country’s energy policy.  It’s my view that there is no other agency of the United States Government that has more influence on this country’s energy policy or, energy prices, than the Interior Department.  This is because it controls so much public land, onshore and offshore, upon which so much of this country’s natural resources reside.  The department’s decisions therefore have a huge impact on the country’s ability to produce its own oil and natural gas.  Environmental groups like to paint the choice that has to be made as between “appeasing oil and natural gas production company interests” vs. “protecting wildlife and the environment”.  That’s not it at all though.  Oil and gas interests are but vehicles for a much larger and more important public interest.  That is the country’s interest in securing a domestic oil and natural gas supply that reduces our dependence on oil produced in other parts of the globe.  For both national security and economic reasons the U.S. can no longer afford, not that it ever could, to import the quantities of oil that we are presently importing.  We just can’t do it any longer.  Thus, the real debate is between “the country’s need for producing oil and natural gas domestically” vs. “protecting wildlife and the environment”.  The line is fuzzier.  It is even fuzzier if you factor in issues such as the environemental risk taken every day as mega-tankers traverse the world’s oceans with cargo that at any moment could result in an environmental disaster of proportions heretofore not experienced, or the lack of environmental safeguards for oil and natural gas drilling in many parts of the world that are standard practice in the United States.  It’s fuzzier too when one considers the economic ramifications of $350-700 billion (depending upon the price of oil) leaving the country every year to pay for this imported oil.  Every decision Interior makes should be made as if there’s an representative from the National Security Council or the Treasury Department in the room as well to make sure those interests are adequately represented.

People will argue that I’m forgetting climate change in this debate.  I’m not.  It is all too real and has to be addressed.  It would be best addressed through a carbon tax that starts to put a premium on the burning of fossil fuels.  (A less transparent and much more complicated alternative to a carbon tax would be institution of a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions into the atmosphere).  Applied to my argument above that we should be producing more oil and natural gas domestically and importing less oil from abroad, a carbon tax would mean that we would begin to discourage the overall use of oil and natural gas and concomitantly increase the overall use of alternative fuels (such as wind and solar).  The place not to engage in the battle between “oil and natural gas” vs. “alternative fuels” is in the field through denying access to public lands for oil and natural gas development.  That battle should be fought with tax policy at a macroeconomic level.  Fighting the battle locally, as environmental groups so like to do, only means, all things being equal, that the country will have to import more oil.  Every barrel of oil not produced in America is a barrel that will have to be imported.   

I want to also close with this observation.  The wildlife and conservation impacts of oil and natural gas development are widely overestimated by most people.  This is because people think of oil and gas development as requiring a far bigger footprint than it does or as a permanent alteration of an often pristine landscape.  It isn’t.  It is but a 20-30 year endeavor on relatively small locations, spread over a large territory and at the end of which remediation is mandated that will return the land to its natural state.  Furthermore, the footprint for oil and gas activity is minute compared to the solar and wind footprint, which are going to be far longer in duration than the 20-30 years for oil and natural gas.   Done correctly there is also no water impact, surface or subsurface, of oil and natural gas production.  Likewise claims about wildlife impacts of oil and natural development are frequently exaggerated.  Technology that limits the footprint of oil and natural gas production by use of directionally drilled wells lessens further all of the negative environmental impacts of oil and natural gas development.

So my bottom line is that Senator Salazar is a great choice.  My best wishes are with him as he takes on one of the toughest jobs in Washington, a job that is tougher for a Democrat centrist who is going to have to say “no” to a critical constituency more often than not if he’s going to do the job demanded of him.

Greatly undervalued in the environmental debate that takes place in the United States is just how dangerous it is to be reliant on transportation by supertanker for much of our country’s oil supply.  We court environmental disaster with every trip from an oil supply terminal somewhere in the world to an American port.  I have a home in a beach community in Delaware, a few miles from Lewes, Delaware, which sits on the southern side of the Delaware River estuary.  On the north end if Cape May, New Jersey.  Between the two, oil tankers sail into and out of the estuary on a regularbasis as crude is delivered to refineries around Philadelphia.  We don’t allow offshore drilliing but we allow these behomoths to ply our shores with regular frequency.  How much risk are we taking?

Read this Op-ed from today’s New York Times by John S. Burnett entitled Grand Theft Nautical.  The purpose of the article wasn’t to talk about the risks of transporting oil by tanker (it’s about Somalia and piracy), but it’s what I took away from my reading of it.  It is frightening.  Talk about a terrorist target.  Here’s an excerpt:

The Sirius was just a target of opportunity. Pirates had no idea that they were about to capture a potential floating bomb. It is not the crude oil that is volatile. You can douse a cigarette in the stuff. It is the vapor from the cargo that is vented into the air that is explosive. For this reason, no one is allowed on deck with a camera, flashlight, cellphone or a plastic cigarette lighter in his pocket. One can imagine the captain of the Sirius Star pleading with his captors not to shoot their guns on deck.

No one wants to contemplate the effects of an exploding tanker laden with 300,000 tons of crude oil. To place this ship in some perspective, the Exxon Valdez, which ran aground in the Gulf of Alaska in 1989, carried 53 million gallons of crude oil. The Sirius is carrying nearly 84 million gallons. If that amount of crude were to escape, the environmental damage to the Indian Ocean and the East African coast, upon which millions earn their living, would be catastrophic.

Every barrel of oil that we decline to produce in America (through refusal to drill in ANWR or to drill off the east and west coasts of the United States) is a barrel that must enter the country by tanker.  While people think there’s a risk to coastlines from offshore drilling, the reality is that technology has rendered that a relatively small risk compared to the risk posed by these supertankers.  One also can’t forget the economic costs of foreign supply in terms of the dollars that flow out of this country or the country’s annual defense expenditure to keep oil flowing into world markets from insecure parts of the globe. 

Rationality demands that we start making better decisions about our use of resources.  As the Chevron commercial points out to me every night when I watch the Lehrer Newshour on PBS, we need all forms of energy and to use less of it.  That is exactly right.  Until we reduce our need for oil for transportation (present dependence: 96%) we must produce more of it at home and bring less of it into the country by tanker.  Just recognizing the risk we take in depending so upon tankers for our supply of oil would be a massive step forward for the country.        

Perhaps it’s too early sing hallelujahs but the news concerning President-elect Obama’s key appointments is music to a centrist ear.  It increases the chances this President could be a great one.  An article to take a look at in this regard is in the New York Times this morning.   It’s entitled Obama Tilts to Center, Inviting a Clash of Ideas.  There’s also indications that President-elect Obama intends to nominate James L. Jones to be his national security advisor.  This is also incredibly good news.  This story can be found in the Washington Post this morning and is called Jones Would Bring Broad Experience to Security Post.

The news this morning all but offsets the somewhat disappointing developments in the U.S. House of Representatives this week.  I am particularly delighted to read of the possibility of General Jones’ appointment to the national security office in the White House.  My familiarity with the General comes from his work as the head of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  Such an appointment would mean that there really will be someone who has President Obama’s ear who knows something, in fact quite a lot, about energy and the national security implications of our dependence upon foreign oil.  The above-linked Washington Post article suggests that Jones would also like to expand the National Security Council’s “role to encompass more energy matters”.  This is a tremendous idea.

It would mean that for the first time in a long time this country would have a chance of crafting a rational and balanced national energy strategy.  Republicans have traditionally excluded environmentalists from a full seat at the policy table and Democrats have traditionally excluded anyone who knows anything about energy.  This would shake things up.

I’d like to close with a excerpt from one of my first postings on this blog from back in early August.  The posting is entitled Flip-Flopping Away and Nixon in China.  While I don’t suggest that at this point that Obama should immediately go as far as opening the Arctic National Wildlife to development, I do suggest that he at least consider it with all of the relevant factors (environmental, national security, economic) on the table, not just some of them. 

Let us assume that Senator Obama is elected President and soon into his Presidency announces not only full support for offshore drilling but support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  What will we make of this?  The left, of course, will be outraged.  The right will have mixed feelings in that a desired policy outcome will have been achieved but at the cost of being politically outmaneuvered and losing an issue that had been solely theirs.  It is what might be called the “Nixon in China” phenomena.  When it happens we don’t expect it although we will likely soon come to regard it as the right thing to do, as it probably truly is.  The fact is that sometimes the breakthrough policies are best achieved by a President from the party not aligned historically with the policy.  It may be the only way we can make radical policy shifts in America.  This is because we never fully trust the motives of the long time advocate — detractors would claim and the public would see the merit in claims that the President is just paying back supporters.  This is what has happened with President Bush on the oil and gas development issue.  He has no environmental credentials and was, after all, an oilman.  However, the only possible explanation for a President Obama taking such a move would be that it was the right thing to do.  Why else would he do something that would risk the wrath of his own party’s supporters?  The net result would likely be that Congress and the public would have little choice but to accept it.

Given our present political environment I sometimes think that the above scenario is the only one capable achieving a significant increase in the amount of oil and natural gas produced domestically – something I clearly believe is in the country’s best interests (as long as we continue to decrease our total consumption of fossil fuels and try ever harder to find alternative energy sources).  It is another potential reason for me, who sees energy policy (including climate change) as being of the highest national importance, to vote for Obama.  Notwithstanding what the Party platforms that will emerge from Minneapolis and Denver this summer will tell us, there is an argument that an Obama Presidency would have a greater chance of solving our energy dilemma in a comprehensive way, ala Nixon in China, than would a McCain Presidency.  We’ll have to see.

Yes, indeed, we’ll have to see.  But the odds are getting better.  Hallelujah.

Robert J. Samuelson in his column this morning entitled Stimulus For the Long Haul suggests a new multi-billion dollar stimulus bill is all but assured.  “It’s extra insurance against an economic free fall”.  Yet he contends the case for the stimulus isn’t airtight as the year’s earlier stimulus bill had only “modest effect.”  His concern is that a new bill, especially if not well crafted, could have a similarly unimpressive economic stimulus effect.  He suggests that if we do nonetheless proceed with a new stimulus package that it also include a few other elements, elements that begin to tackle some tough political issues that that need, for the sake of our country’s long-term economic health, to be addressed.  I’ll let you read the details of his three proposals, only summarizing them here, but all three are worthy of serious contemplation.  I might tinker with details but in general they are excellent suggestions.  The three:  1) Raise gasoline taxes and not let today’s lower oil prices filter through to consumers again and wash away the conservation gains of the past few months; 2) increase the earliest retirement age from 62 to 64, signalling, if nothing else, Congress’s willingness to tackle the Social Security/Medicare problem; and, 3) Authorize offshore drilling for oil and natural gas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico.  Yes, to all three.  I will add only that, as to 3), it is important that what Congress does this time is real, not just optical (as the House bill passed a few ago was).  There are important economic reasons to bring American jobs and dollars home.