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Yes, Drill — but Research, Too

June 24, 2008

The following editorial appeared in the Dallas Morning News on Friday, June 20:

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President Bush now calls on Congress to expand offshore oil drilling. John McCain, who used to oppose it, flip-flopped to support the president. Good for both of them. Come on in, Barack Obama, the flip-flopping is fine. Four-dollar-a-gallon gas has a way of focusing the mind.

In fact, we’d go both candidates one better: It’s time to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling _ if opening the refuge is coupled with, as we’ve suggested before, measures to systematically promote conservation, efficiency and alternative fuels.

But let’s be clear: Opening the new reserves alone would solve nothing. At current rates of consumption, estimated reserves would cover only about four years of U.S. oil needs.

What new drilling buys us is time _ time to go all-out in trying to find alternatives to crude oil. At present, there isn’t a viable replacement for oil _ and none on the horizon. The economic and national security imperative to find replacements is stark and urgent.

That’s why any new oil drilling must be accompanied by a powerful and sustained federal commitment to researching and developing alternative energy. It’s here that Obama’s proposals exceed McCain’s. In the current issue of The American Interest, Johns Hopkins professor Charles Doran says government energy R&D funding has been astonishingly miserly and short sighted over the past few decades. It’s now one-fifth what it was in 1979, in the last energy crisis.

Corporate and university R&D programs depend on a steady government commitment to succeed, Doran contends: “Only a high level of funding will enable all research facilities to expand in a systematic and committed fashion so as to get serious results.”

Obama and McCain have good ideas, but neither sees the whole picture. According to a Reuters/Zogby poll released Wednesday, 60 percent of those surveyed favor more domestic drilling _ and an equal number favor conservation measures. Americans know this crisis requires a comprehensive government response. They need a leader who does, too.

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(c) 2008, The Dallas Morning News.

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