Energy Independence And Terrorism
In all probability, neither the first Gulf war in 1991, nor the war in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, would have occurred had it not been for our continued dependence on Middle-Eastern oil. Time and again, we have placed our men and women in uniform in harm's way and spent hundreds of billions to protect our oil interests in that region. As long as we remain beholden to Arab oil-producing states, we will inevitably compromise our overall strategic interests in the region and severely impede our chances of ever winning the war on terrorism.
To be sure, if we continue to support current Arab regimes, the hatred and disdain toward America felt by the Arab masses will continue unabated. Terrorism, as the most forceful way of expressing that resentment towards us, will continue to escalate. The sooner we become less reliant on Middle-Eastern oil (via a specific and comprehensive energy plan), the sooner we can develop a more independent policy to deal with terrorism and other regional issues. Unfortunately, successive Democratic and Republican administrations have failed to develop a national energy strategy to free us from our dependency on outside sources. The current steep hikes in gasolene prices are a reminder, not only of our vulnerability, but of our shortsightedness and negligence regarding our most critical national security concern. It is baffling that our nation with all of its human, technological, natural, and economic resources continues to depend on Middle-Eastern oil and thus makes itself hostage to the turmoil in that region as well as the whims of the rulers of oil-producing countries. Two-thirds of the world's oil reserves are located in the Middle East, and at some point because of our dependency, we could find ourselves in a crippling crisis. Currently, we are importing more than 55 percent of the oil used for our domestic oil consumption from foreign sources. This dependency not only undermines our national security, it adds tens of billions to a trade deficit already exceeding a half trillion dollars a month. Since the 1973 oil embargo, American have spent $7 trillion more for oil products than if OPEC had not regulated production. Under the pretext of the war on terrorism, we invaded Iraq at a cost of upwards of $150 billion-and our expenditures are still rising–when, in fact, the administration was motivated largely by oil considerations.
There is a legitimate discussion between various government agencies and energy experts about the kind of energy plan that could best serve our nation's needs. But the bill the administration sent to Congress, where it failed to pass, was based largely on the old premise of generating greater supplies of fossil fuel, while providing few incentives for the domestic development of renewable energy–for which the technology has existed for years. The Senate rejected Bush's energy bill because, among other things, it made oil and gas drilling into the dominant use of public land, weakened the Clean Air Act, would have given billions of dollars to polluting coal, oil, and nuclear industries, failed to decrease our oil dependence, and contained no incentives for fuel economy cars.
We must finally realize that increasing the supply of fossil fuel is not the answer to our energy problem. We must change our national psychological disposition of relying on fossil fuel. As Mike Bowlin, the CEO of ARCO oil, has said: "We are in the last days of the age of oil, perhaps I would say the last decade, but clearly this is going to be the century of new technology of renewable resources." This shift, however, will not happen in a decade or even two by itself. We need a bold new energy initiative that adequately responds to the dangerous times we live in and we must commit ourselves to seeing it through, regardless of the difficulties and the financial resources required.
A new "energy independent" plan may require upwards of $50 billion for investment in new plants, the commercialization of existing technologies and the development of new ones, and for providing tax incentives, subsidies, and conservation that helps consumers and stabilizes prices so that within 8 to 10 years we become independent of foreign oil supplies. The hallmark of any new energy plan must be renewable, domestically produced energy that conserves our natural resources and protects the environment. We must ensure that no outside interests ever dictate our energy policies or priorities.
To this end, we must focus on energy sources like fuel cells, whether these are hydrogen, natural gas, or methanol. These are more efficient because they turn fuel directly into electric energy. We should harness clean and inexhaustible sources such as wind power, solar power, bio-fuels such as wood and crop wastes, along with geothermal and hydroelectric energy, and develop new natural gas plants. Ethanol, for example, can be produced in abundance. We also have the technoloy for auto manufacturers to make dual-fuel vehicles that run on gasoline or ethanol blends. Another powerful energy source is hydrogen which is found in waters; it can also be produced from ethanol in great quantities in the corn-belt states. President Bush's $1.7 billion "Freedom Car" initiative promises economically viable hydrogen fuel cells in 20 years; this time can be cut in half if we put development on the fast track with adequate funding.
Because of its ties to the oil industry, the Bush administration is unlikely to try to pass a new comprehensive Energy Independent bill during an election year. It will probably be left to the next administration to act in a bold and visionary manner to free us from our slavery to oil and that will focus in earnest on the war against terrorism rather than use it as the pretext to wage a war for oil that has undermined rather than enhanced our national security.