Babaloo's post below slams Pombo on his tight allegiance to the auto and oil industries, or more accurately, to their campaign dollars. I never quite understood why Pombo has voted against every attempt in Congress to raise the vehicle fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards, but now I am starting to see it in a different light. Let me explain:
Pombo portrays a stunning lack of intelligence, reasoning, and common decency by seeking to keep our cars, SUVs, and trucks inefficiently burning fuel, while at the same time, he pushes for more and more drilling in remote wilderness areas and offshore. He mouths all this jingoistic junk about "independence" from foreign oil and keeping America "secure", but his actions do anything but that.
If Pombo was truly concerned about his constituents (hint: he's not), his first action on energy would be to demand higher fuel efficiency standards. But he is doing the exact opposite of that, as if there is something virtuous about low mileage vehicles. As if it is an intrusive "liberal" plot to undermine America to seek to use gasoline and other fuels more efficiently.
How did it get to this point? Well, one factor is that American automakers are adamantly opposed to raising the standards because of the costs to their businesses. This is a remarkably short-sighted approach. Already, Toyota and Honda are eating GM and Ford's lunch by pushing aggressively into hybrid cars and better performing engines.
Perhaps the issue is not so much retooling their factories, but retooling their thinking. There is an old American myth about boundless resources and unencumbered wealth. That the land was too big and contained too much for anyone ever to have a need to scale back. That there was no need for compromise or accommodation, as we all could grab our own piece of land and live whatever way we wanted. With the land so big and expansive, the myth goes, there is no need to ever temper your desires and vision.
Raising fuel efficiency goes against this myth as it is an acknowledgement that there are limits, that efficient use is necessary, that wastefulness has serious consequences. That yes, we do need to temper our consumption, that we do need to accommodate and be considerate.
It is a recognition that "Power" is not necessarily brute strength, but instead the graceful and efficient use of energy. As the cliches say, water is much more fluid than rocks, yet it wears down mountains. The solid oak tree is blown over in a storm, yet the pliant willow bends and survives. The point is it is a much more subtle and mature understanding of power as a force that "goes with the flow" versus ramrodding over everything.
And we see this in the fuel debate -- Pombo supporters are generally ones entranced with this "brute force" power: the off-roads, the snowmobilers, the jet skiers, the NASCAR crowd, the ones with big hulking SUVs with "W '04" stickers on them. This is in opposition to hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, sailboats, etc., that rely on human or wind power, not fossil fuels.
This thinking also extends into foreign policy - the "let's nuke 'em", "turn the Middle East into glass", rather than diplomatic solutions. This type of policy maybe feels more potent and more "macho", but it is actually less effective, if even effective at all. One recent example is the uncovering of the plot to use liquid explosives to blow up planes. That was discovered by good detective work, not by brute force, not by a war. Meanwhile, we watch as Iraq turns into utter chaos, as Israel's invasion of Lebanon produces more terrorists, and as Afghanistan goes back to the war/drug lords and the Taliban rises again.
Looked at this way, it would be anathema for Pombo and his crowd to support better fuel efficiency. It starts to make sense why he would advocate such extreme measures as ruining wilderness areas, our coastlines, Western mountains, and just about anywhere else in a desperate search to come up with more oil, rather promote even the most basic of efficiency improvements. It is not just out and out stupidity on his part, it is that his whole view on life is based on an archaic, unrealistic, and dangerously deluded myth of the American West.