Reading First District Congressman Henry Brown’s op-ed column in last Thursday’s Post and Courier was downright surreal. On the prospect of drilling for oil and gas off the South Carolina coast, Brown wrote: “Offshore drilling can provide immediate relief to our energy crisis.”

Nobody — nobody! — not even George W. Bush is dumb enough to believe that. The best guess is that if ExxonMobil got all the green lights to start drilling off Folly Beach today, it would be at least seven years — and more likely 10 — before the first Palmetto petrol was available at the pump.

But who says you would even be able to buy it? Any oil or gas that comes out of our continental reserves would go straight into the global energy market. It would not be used to decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil. Any Economics 101 student knows that, yet Brown intentionally tried to deceive his constituents by suggesting otherwise.

In his column, Brown laid out a brief history of America’s growing energy dependence, dating back to the 1973 oil embargo. And he concluded, “Here we are in 2006, facing the same energy crisis.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. For more than 30 years, scientists and sages have been telling us that it is time to wean ourselves off petroleum and find alternative sources of energy. And it is time to develop new fuel-efficient technologies.

President Jimmy Carter gave dire warnings about a future of oil dependence, and he set the nation on a course of developing new technologies and alternative energy sources, with the federal government taking a leadership role. In 1980, Ronald Reagan campaigned against Carter on a don’t-worry-be-happy platform. On taking office in 1981, he rewarded his corporate sponsors by dismantling Carter’s nascent alternative energy programs. Subsequent administrations have refused to raise automobile fuel efficiency standards and have even given tax breaks to buyers of SUVs.

“Here we are in 2006, facing the same energy crisis.” Is

anybody surprised — other than Henry Brown, that is?

For 30 years, we have treated oil and gas as if they were infinite resources, and our government — at the behest of the oil and gas industries — has encouraged us to do so. Henry Brown wants us to continue using oil and gas as though they were the energy of the future, and he wants to sacrifice our coast to this future.

It’s worth noting that, in his column, Brown utterly ignores the most important issue of our age, the issue which is at the crux of our energy crisis. Our planet is undergoing a climate change and the primary cause of that change is carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels.

“The entire global scientific community has a consensus on the question that human beings are responsible for global warming,” former vice president Al Gore said last week, in an interview for An Inconvenient Truth, his new film on global warming.

But in a flash of paranoia-heaped-on-surrealism, Brown writes: “For nearly three decades, environmental extremists and their liberal allies in Congress have fought to halt production of all forms of energy.”

Take it from Henry — just get rid of those pesky environmentalists and liberals and the energy crisis will go away.

As we head toward the November election, it becomes clear that we are represented in Washington by a tired old man full of tired old ideas. Henry Brown is a political and technological dinosaur.

By contrast, his challenger Randy Maatta understands the future and understands our responsibility to it. Speaking in Pawley’s Island last week, Maatta said, “Global warming is a fact … This whole issue (of coastal drilling) is a self-preservation issue, a quality-of-life issue, a property-values issue.”

Maatta also supports developing alternative technologies and sources of energy, but unlike Brown, Maatta says that conservation — not coastal drilling — is the solution to our current high prices and energy dependence. If we devoted our attention to building fuel-efficient automobiles, we could be saving more energy in ten years than we would secure from drilling America’s Outer Coastal Shelf. The risks to our environment and our tourism industry are totally avoidable, Maatta said.

(One more note on Rep. Brown’s op-ed column: In a hilarious Freudian malaprop, Brown — or his speech writer — referred to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as the Organization of Arab Exporting Countries. And the Congressman left no doubt that he was against it!)

A final bit of surrealism in this whole strange story: The Post and Courier has yet to publish a major investigation into the pros and cons, the costs and benefits of what may be the most important decision on Charleston’s future for years to come. Once again, the P&C‘s silence speaks louder than its words.