Rising call: Cut US oil imports
Security hawks, environmentalists forge a rare consensus on energy.
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"We believe that the United States' dependence on imported petroleum poses a risk to our homeland security and economic well-being," wrote EFC in a letter to President Bush in March signed by more than 30 military and security officials, including Robert McFarlane, former national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan.Skip to next paragraph
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Many in Congress - and in the oil industry - argue that the US has a plan: the new energy bill. It spends: $2 billion on hydrogen fuel-cell research, $2.7 billion on nuclear energy research, $1.1 billion on improving the nation's electrical grid, and $2.9 billion on fossil energy research to foster exploration, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce says. It would also authorize more than $6.7 billion on energy-efficiency measures, mostly research into technologies and standards. Ethanol would get a boost with a mandate to produce 5 billion gallons by 2012, enough to replace 1.2 billion barrels of oil.
"The 2005 energy bill is the latest in a string of opportunities to get on with the business of making America energy independent," says a spokeswoman for US Rep. Joe Barton (R) of Texas and chairman of the energy committee.
"This bill absolutely addresses dependence on foreign oil from both the demand and supply side," says John Felmy, chief economist of the American Petroleum Institute, a Washington trade organization. "You've got to look at the facts instead of the rhetoric. Drilling in Alaska would cut imports by five percentage points."
Such measures aren't enough, critics say. Even a package of energy- saving measures unveiled by the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy would cut oil imports by only 1.6 percentage points by 2025.
If this year's energy bill doesn't do enough to reduce oil imports, it may be because, with the exception of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), it is little changed from last year's version in most major provisions, says Navin Nayak, an analyst for the National Association of State Public Interest Research Groups, a consumer group in Washington. And the impact of those provisions when they were part of the 2003 energy bill showed that the bill's long-term impact on US oil consumption, production, and imports was "negligible," according to a Department of Energy analysis last year.
One key change is that this year's bill eliminates most tax incentives for alternative fuels and fuel efficiency. Last year's version devoted about 65 percent to fossil-fuel exploration and nuclear research; this year's apportions about 95 percent of tax incentives to them, leaving just 5 percent for conservation and renewable energy, Mr. Nayak says. More than $3 billion in tax incentives for renewables were dropped, according to his analysis. The production tax credit for wind, solar, and other renewable industries expires in 2006. The House bill doesn't renew it.
"Our hope is that the Senate will continue to make renewable energy a priority," says Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association.
Geothermal and solar do get research incentives, but no direct tax credits. Biodiesel tax credits were approved as part of a bill last year. The oil and gas industry, meanwhile, would receive $3.2 billion in tax breaks that would let the industry write off the cost of drilling - even in cases where oil is found, according to the House's Joint Committee on Taxation. The energy bill also includes a new section entitled "Set America Free," although its focus is limited mostly to research.