Opinion: Distortions in the name of a noble cause
By Alan Nathan
Published June 10, 2008

The cost of oil is high because our knowledge of how to combat it is low, and the media has blossomed into the greatest enabler of this collective shortcoming. Yes, behemoths like Exxon/Mobil, Shell, and Texaco are valid culprits to blame when bemoaning our corrosive energy prices. However, we’re forgetting about the environmentalists’ role and their strange-bedfellow alliance with the very nemesis they castigate – oil companies. By blocking refineries from getting built, environmentalists increase the value of oil because they’ve rendered it less accessible. Oddly enough, they provide petroleum giants with the very scapegoat necessary to validate their high profits – an easy reference to the “laws of supply and demand.”

At issue is our need to separate the legitimate environmentalists from the illegitimate. The former caution us not to blindly side with economic growth at the cost of harming our planet’s treasure and they beseech us to find a balance. The latter camouflages a socialist agenda behind the cause of environmentalism in order to reduce individual prosperity and thus weaken the resistance to socialism. (The more socialists are confronted by a financially self-reliant population, the less attractive becomes their proposal for citizens to surrender independence in exchange for authoritarian protection.)

Accordingly, the activists-in-disguise create a frustrating paradox. While big oil fights environmentalists over drilling, e.g., ANWAR and off-shore options, they have little incentive to fight them over refineries. These crippling prices are caused less by supply and demand than they are by AVAILABLE supply and demand – which has nothing to do with healthy capitalism because said availability is fictionally portrayed.
As a result, these cost manipulations are cultivated by bad-faith advocates who wind up squeezing the very little guys they purport to champion.

Pressured by these anti-business zealots masquerading their collectivist agenda behind the more socially palatable cause of saving the earth, federal and state legislatures have imposed upon oil companies the most intellectually barren regulatory formulas imaginable. Thanks to excessively officious barriers, energy conglomerates enjoy political cover for not having created another refinery since 1976 while delighting in the higher profits generated by the absence of those refineries.

Most colorfully emblematic of this strangeness is Arizona Clean Fuels Yuma, the first planned refinery in 32 years. Though initiated in 1998, their refinery application won’t be a physical reality till 2011. It’s amazing the project still lives given the opponents’ vapid but dour predictions of violated ozone standards, a circuitous permit-system lasting longer than most marriages and the comfort needs of a Flat-Tailed Horned Lizard generating the kind of sympathetic anguish normally reserved for hurricane victims……who are then told they have cancer.

Consequently, the bad-faith environmentalists have become to big oil what De Beers has been to the diamond industry for years – an excuse to charge more money by falsely giving the perception of reduced inventories. Strangely, we have a 10 year high of oil reserves getting blocked from a more unfettered market-reach because these abridged thinkers believe that oil consumption must be eviscerated even at the cost of harming everyday consumers. While their movement trades on the high cost of oil as an incentive to go for alternative fuels, they prevent us from having more affordable fuels as we pursue those alternatives. Why make the transition so avoidably punishing?

This would all be less dangerous if we could have a more objective presentation of facts driving the energy debate in this country. But how can this happen when we’re at the mercy of media leaders like Time Magazine’s managing editor Richard Stengel. While speaking against global-warming at the University of Mississippi he said that, “This notion that journalism is objective – or must be objective – is something that has always bothered me.” Business and Media Institute, April 21, 2008

Mr. Stengel’s posture on journalism was ironically undercut a month later by his top columnist, Joe Klein. While chastising CNN’s Lou Dobbs for his take on illegal immigration, Mr. Klein argued that the anchor had failed to meet the standards of “a network that makes a real effort to separate truth from falsehood and represents all sides of the political debate [AKA, objectivity].” Time Magazine, May 25, 2008. Crazily enough, Joe Klein’s outrage was predicated on a foundation already rejected by his boss!

For editors like Mr. Stengel, reporters may no longer present facts in their self-evident form, but rather must shape them in a fashion that better facilitates one worldview over another. Apparently in the name of a noble cause, it’s now ok to trample on far nobler principles.





Alan Nathan, combative centrist, columnist, speaker and the nationally syndicated host of "Battle Line With Alan Nathan" on the Radio America Network.

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