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Friday, June 27, 2008

McCain’s $300 Million Dollar Distraction (and the Media’s Complicity)

Ann-Marie Luciano

Yesterday, in yet another record, oil reached its highest price peak in history: over $140 a barrel. This new price is being attributed to Libya's announcement that it was considering options to cut output in response to U.S. Actions against oil-producing countries.

In response, Congress pointed its finger to the new scapegoat-of-the-month: speculators. The U.S. House of Representatives directed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to use its authority to "curb immediately" the role of excessive speculation in the energy futures markets. It is now up to the Senate to see if any legislative action will be taken.

As the price of oil has continued to climb over the past several months, it has been interesting to watch the speed at which politicians have been willing to assign blame to any person, under any theory and at any cost. First the problem was blamed on the "big oil" companies, prompting calls to tax "windfall" profits. Next we heard that the problem was the environmentalists, who were preventing the exploration, development and extraction of domestic oil (and thus contributing to America's dependence on foreign oil). Now we hear that the problem is caused by the speculators and investors in the oil market.

In the midst of this finger-pointing Senator McCain has announced his energy proposal, including a proposal for a $300 million dollar prize to be given to anyone who develops an automobile battery that delivers power at 30% of the current costs. What surprises me most about this proposal (other than the fact that a Presidential candidate is passing off a prize as energy policy) is the fact the media seem to forget and McCain seems to ignore the fact that battery-powered cars have already been developed in the United States.

As recounted by the 2006 documentary film Who Killed the Electric Car?, after the California Air Resources Board passed an emissions mandate in 1990, General Motors developed and made available for lease the EV1, which was a battery electric vehicle. Many Californians leased the EV1 and raved about it. The film shows what happened after the California Air Resources Board reversed its mandate: GM took back the EV1s from the customers and disposed of them.

Why hasn't the media reported on all of the technology that already exists that could potentially solve our transportation problems? Why hasn't the media asked McCain why he would propose that taxpayers pay money to the developer of a battery that, in essence, already exists? We're in the midst of an energy crisis and our politicians continue to bicker, point fingers and develop gimmicks.

No one – neither our elected officials nor the media – seem to give energy policy issues the serious forethought they deserve. I say it's time that we demand the end to these political quick fix gimmicks.

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