Late last week, the Senate passed an energy bill that, while including some good things, seems to derive a good deal of its own energy from pies in the sky.

It tilts strongly toward newfangled windmills and biomass for generating electricity — technologies that at present can't come close to generating the nation's needs. And it does nothing to move the nation more toward a greater reliance on nuclear power, a clean source that, with the right emphasis on the recycling of spent fuel rods, could greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions while supplying all the power people demand.

It would outlaw so-called "price gouging," making it illegal to charge an "unconscionably excessive" price for gasoline and other products derived from oil. Nobody seems able to define "unconscionably excessive." One can assume that if many retailers are charging a price, it wouldn't meet that definition, which means the nation probably hasn't ever seen such a charge for gasoline, despite the angry passions of millions of drivers.

It promotes an expansion of ethanol production with little regard for what this might do to food prices globally. Ethanol is made primarily from corn.

Tilting at windmills, producing ethanol and throwing tantrums at price gouging aren't serious measures. At best, windmills, ethanol and other alternatives are measures that could produce the nation's energy needs many years from now. They should be encouraged and supported. But the nation's immediate needs require a greater use of oil reserves hidden right here at home.

Open the Alaskan wilderness and other areas for oil extraction to ensure strong domestic supplies in a volatile world. And encourage nuclear energy as a clean alternative to coal.

And while mass transit traditionally isn't a part of the nation's energy policy, Congress also should show its support for this important alternative by increasing federal participation in the construction of local rail lines. Americans have been subsidizing automobile travel long enough. It's time for a similar commitment to transit, which can reduce the reliance on oil.

The bill does mandate better fuel economy in the cars manufactured for use in this country. This makes sense, although any carmaker with an eye toward fuel costs and market conditions should be heading in that direction, anyway. Unfortunately, a proposal to hike taxes on oil in order to spur efficiency and alternatives failed. But the tax would have done little unless it was used properly, anyway.

All in all, this was a poor effort on an issue of supreme importance to Americans.