Rising call: Cut US oil imports
Security hawks, environmentalists forge a rare consensus on energy.
President Bush says he can't immediately bring down the price of foreign oil. But sixth-grader Savannah Walters of Tampa, Fla., has a plan. Her "Pump 'em Up!" website urges kids to bug their parents to check their tire pressure. Properly inflated tires on the nation's cars would save an estimated 4 million gallons of gasoline a day.Skip to next paragraph
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R. James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, also has an energy plan. He's signed onto a 129-page blueprint from the newly formed Energy Future Coalition, which would use tax credits to push fast development of hybrid and other advanced vehicles and technologies that could make ethanol from corn stalks, prairie grass, or even sawdust.
Outside official Washington, which is laboring over an energy bill, energy-independence plans are popping up across the American political landscape. Liberals and conservatives, ecologists and former military brass have reached the same conclusion: The United States needs a radical change in energy policy. The way to do it, they agree, is through a mix of conservation and new-but-available technology that could quickly begin to reduce US reliance on some of the most volatile regions of the world.
These rumblings are the beginning of possibly the most radical rethink of energy policy since the 1970s.
"It's one of the great failures of American politics and policy that we are so dependent on oil from one of the most corrupt and unstable areas of the world," says former US Sen. Timothy Wirth, now president of the United Nations Foundation. "The world's in crisis and the US is doing nothing to limit our dependence and extraordinary vulnerability."
In some key areas, the situation has gotten worse since the first oil crisis of the 1970s. Then, the US relied on overseas sources for just over a third of its oil. Today, dependence has grown to 56 percent and, by 2025, would reach 68 percent, if nothing changes, according to the US Energy Information Administration. While the US economy overall is more energy efficient and, thus, less vulnerable to high energy prices, overall efficiency gains in the oil-reliant transportation sector have stagnated.
The nation's passenger fleet (cars and light trucks) gets virtually the same mileage today as it did in 1981 - about 25 miles per gallon, according to the Department of Transportation. Motors and drivetrains are generally more efficient, but vehicles - think SUVS and pickups - are far heavier than before. Also, fuel economy standards have not been updated by Congress since 1987. And pickups and SUVs are exempted from the fuel-economy standards that apply to cars, dragging down overall fleet mileage.
Of course, environmental-minded reformers have been pointing out these challenges for years. In the past year, at least half a dozen think tanks and labor and environmental groups have unveiled detailed plans to reduce oil imports. What's new is that security-minded conservatives have begun to jump on the energy-independence bandwagon too.
Last fall, the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a Washington think tank on energy, issued a plan called "Set America Free." In December, the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy released its strategy. Last month, a bevy of national-security "energy hawks," military brass, and industry officials, as well as prominent Democrats and environmentalists, published their plan under the name Energy Future Coalition.