Rather than do something productive to increase fuel supplies, Congress wastes time hunting bogeymen and fabricating distractions. Lately they have excoriated Big Oil for the cardinal sin of "under-investing" in alternative energy.
ExxonMobil "only spent $10 million on renewables last year," House Energy Independence Committee Chairman Ed Markey, D-Mass., moaned June 22 on ABC’s "This Week."
"I am very angry, frankly, at the oil companies," presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said June 12. "Not only because of the obscene profits they’ve made, but their failure to invest in alternative energy to help us eliminate our dependence on foreign oil."
"We are forcing oil companies to change their ways," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, told journalists May 7. "We will hold them accountable for unconscionable price gouging and force them to invest in renewable energy or pay a price for refusing to do so."
But before Congress dunks Big Oil’s CEOs in crude and dips them in feathers for this alleged inaction, a simple question occurs:
Where on Earth is it written that any industry must spend money to subvert its business model? Since when must any company plow scarce resources into helping consumers avoid its products? If enterprises now must meet this standard, the fascinating possibilities are endless:
— Shall Boeing develop "bullet trains" so Americans can de-plane jumbo jets and board high-speed rail cars?
— Why shouldn’t Pfizer modernize traditional Chinese herbal medicine? Why create Viagra, Jr. when the drug giant could craft better aphrodisiacs from deer antlers?
— Why won’t Brooks Brothers invest in "alternative clothing," such as T-shirts, torn jeans, and flip flops? Who do they think they are, producing that classic look embraced by the American Establishment?
— Why does Anheuser-Busch focus on beer, rather than wholesome fruit juices and dairy drinks? How much longer must Americans wait for the Budweiser Berry Smoothie?
— Where is NBC’s literature division? Shouldn’t viewers click off their flat-screen TVs and pick up mentally stimulating books?
— And why does Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), insist on fundraising only for his campaign? When will he hold a benefit for John McCain?
Despite this notion’s manifest absurdity, Big Oil, in fact, has spent plenty on alternative energy. While Washington politicians spit venom at the petroleum industry, it funds more of such research than does Uncle Sam.
In May 2006, the Institute for Energy Research and the Center for Energy Economics found that oil and gas companies spent $1.2 billion between 2000 and 2005 on wind, solar, geothermal, and other non-fossil fuels. Washington simultaneously appropriated $1.6 billion on such projects.
Meanwhile, Big Oil devoted $11 billion researching end-use technologies, including efficient heat and power co-generation, plus fuel-cell vehicles. Big Government plowed $800 million into such advancements.
All told, the evil oil companies expended $12.2 billion on new energy sources. That quintupled the federal government’s $2.4 billion commitment.
BP in 2007 allocated $700 million to domestic wind-power projects. This year, five new BP wind farms worth $1.5 billion will generate 700 megawatts of electricity. BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, and Shell jointly have invested $3.5 billion in solar, wind, and biodiesel ventures.
Rep. Markey’s bete noir, ExxonMobil, has spent $1 billion since 2004 on co-generation technology. It also is donating $100 million to Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project.
"We have 40 breakthrough programs underway looking at every aspect of renewables," ExxonMobil senior vice-president J. Stephen Simon told Markey’s committee April 1. "We are looking at solar. We are looking at biofuels, biomass."
Of course, if Exxon finally discovered how to extract fuel from banana peels, politicians who would burn CEO Rex Tillerson at the stake today will berate Exxon tomorrow for making "obscene profits" on banana power.
If oil companies’ shareholders and managers enjoy researching renewable energy, hooray! But the awful new idea that they should be coerced or compelled to do so should be stomped on with work boots until dead. No firm or industry should be expected or required to invest in its own obsolescence. This is common sense. But most concepts that waft from Washington, D.C. — like methane escaping a landfill — stopped making sense ages ago. So it goes as Congress increasingly scorns alternatives to its own power.
(Deroy Murdock is a columnist and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.Murdock(at)gmail.com)