Green Business Is Good Business

The U.S. is facing a wide range of problems--the California electricity shortage, high gasoline prices, growing dependence on overseas OPEC oil, lack of refining capacity--that fall under the overall umbrella of "energy crisis." As we contemplate President Bush's energy proposal, we would do well to keep in mind two things. First, the market is already responding to higher energy prices, and to the degree that the crisis is one of supply, it is well on its way to being solved. At the same time, both the Administration and its environmental critics are engaging in caricature in attacking one another while refusing to accept what is obvious--a practical energy package should include incentives to both boost production and increase conservation.

The current energy debate was not helped when Vice-President Dick Cheney, usually a savvy pol, launched a misguided public attack on energy conservation. No one, except for a handful of eco-extremists, believes that conservation is the only answer to the energy crisis. But few believe that conservation plays no role either. It is up to Congress to negotiate a balance in the weeks ahead.

We think part of the problem is cultural. Many Bush officials see energy conservationists as antigrowth. To Americans brought up on the frontier ethic of unlimited progress, opportunity, and growth, the concept of limits is apostasy. Throw in the push for government regulations to set efficiency standards for appliances or mileage standards for cars, and some Bush people see greens as antibusiness as well.

Their anger, however, is misdirected. Conservationists today are increasingly pro-growth and pro-market. They focus on working with corporations such as Gap, Ford Motor, Palm, and Novartis in developing new technologies to save energy. They support market solutions, such as trading pollution credits, to help keep the air clean.

In fact, the market is hard at work solving the energy crisis. Some 90,000 megawatts of generating capacity is already under construction. Gas companies are putting down hundreds of miles of pipeline. And drilling is up sharply as well.

Washington can help. A package that focuses on both energy production and conservation won't threaten America's values or its way of life.

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