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Rising call: Cut US oil imports

Security hawks, environmentalists forge a rare consensus on energy.

(Page 3 of 3)

Even security-minded critics worry that not enough is being done. Like President Bush, Mr. Woolsey applauds research into futuristic hydrogen-powered cars, but that won't meet today's security concerns, he says. "Our transportation systems are so locked into oil now and the existing infrastructure, that there's a serious risk of terrorist interruption of that infrastructure in ways that could be catastrophic." He worries that a single terrorist attack on, say, a large Saudi refinery could cut 10 percent of the world's current oil supply - and send prices soaring.

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"Even if prices got no higher, or even came down some, sending tens of billions of dollars overseas to people determined to destroy us is crazy, no matter the price of oil," says Frank Gaffney Jr., president of the Center for Security Policy, a national security think tank.

He's not against drilling in ANWR. It's just not enough, says Mr. Gaffney, former assistant secretary of Defense under Mr. Reagan and a signatory to the Energy Future Coalition. That plan pumps money into new technologies like alternative fuels, clean-coal electric generating technology, and a better electric grid.

"I believe we as a country are going to do every single one of the things on that laundry list," Gaffney says of the EFC plan. "The only question is do we do it before we have to - or afterward? The chances are we'll have to do it far sooner than we think. We're on borrowed time as far as people seriously disrupting oil flows."

Of course, Americans have heard all this before. In the 1970s, after the first oil shocks, President Richard Nixon pitched "Project Independence," which included, like Mr. Bush's plan today, an initiative for hydrogen-powered cars. President Jimmy Carter followed with a host of emergency energy-saving moves, declaring the push to address energy the "moral equivalent of war." The US also spent billions developing a synthetic-fuels program (later canceled by Reagan as gasoline prices began dropping).

The nation responded. It is far more efficient in usingelectrical energy than it was. Refrigerators, for instance, use just a third of the power they did in the 1970s.

America's weak point remains oil, which fuels the lion's share of its cars, buses, and trucks. Few believe the US can become completely energy independent. Among those who do is Amory Lovins, chief executive officer of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, Colo.

A proponent of carbon-fiber cars and hybrid technology, he says a melding of the two technologies combined with tax incentives to aid Detroit could arrest and even reverse the US automobile industry's decline. But the crucial point, Mr. Lovins notes, is that the nation has within its grasp the technology to change the picture entirely - if it can find the will.

"We can save oil faster than they can sell oil," Lovins says of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. "The last time we exercised that power in the late 1970s, it broke OPEC's market power for a decade. We need to adopt a plan and do it again."

First article in an occasional series.