Accessibility links

Rising Oil Prices Changing National Energy Strategies


With the price of oil close to record highs, some unlikely allies are teaming up to change the energy policy of the United States. A group of former national security officials are joining environmentalists in calling on the Bush administration to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil.

For years, calls by environmentalists to develop alternative fuels that burn cleaner than oil and gas have fallen mainly on deaf ears. But in recent months, as oil prices have spiked, the push has gained new momentum as a number of conservative defense policy experts have joined environmentalists in calling on the U.S. government to cut American oil use in half by 2025. It isn't global warming or pollution that worries these national security officials but a matter of war and peace.

Robert McFarlane, National Security Advisor to former President Ronald Reagan, fears war in the Middle East or terrorist threats to blow up pipelines in Saudi Arabia could disrupt the flow of oil.

"I think in earlier years we didn't face as organized a terrorist threat as we do today," says Mr. McFarlane.

He is among more than two-dozen national security experts who recently sent a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush calling for immediate action to cut U.S. dependence on oil.

In many ways it parallels the president's own energy plan, now stalled in Congress.

"Through technology we can increase our national security and economic security by reducing demand for petrochemicals and, at the same time, we clean up the air in our country," says President Bush.

With two-thirds of the nation's oil burned for transportation, those backing the new initiative propose greater use of hybrid electric cars and favor vehicles that run on ethanol made from agricultural waste.

Frequent attacks on Iraq's oil pipelines have demonstrated the vulnerability of the world's oil infrastructure. Security experts, such as Anne Korin, Director of the group "Set America Free," which spearheaded the bipartisan effort, believe a major attack is inevitable.

"If we look at Saudi Arabia we have several big facilities, which, if they were hit, would take a significant chunk of capacity off the market and that would really have a devastating effect on oil prices," says Ms. Korin.

Keeping oil flowing costs more than the price at the pump. National Security experts point to the multi-billion dollar cost of the war on terrorism. Further, the countries believed to be funding terrorists get most of their money from oil exports, leading some analysts to argue that American consumers are paying for both sides of the war on terror.

Bracken Hendricks, the Executive Director of the Apollo Alliance, an organization working to reshape the country's energy policy, believes this is a credible argument. Mr. Hendricks says, "American oil dollars are moving into the buildup of geopolitical instability and the rise of terrorism at the same time that American public spending is being directed towards a war on terror rather than reducing the causes of our dependence on oil at home.”

Mr. Hendricks and others believe investing those billions in energy independence would be a much better long-term strategy.

Globally, the United States is not the only nation competing for the world's oil resources. China and India are now major oil consumers. Anne Korin says this rapidly growing thirst for oil is driving their foreign policy decisions.

"So we see these countries -- especially China -- building very strong relationships with countries with which the U.S. is often at odds - Iran or Sudan. This has foreign policy implications for the U.S.," says Ms. Korin.

It also has implications for American consumers. They are still buying big, gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles. And while hybrids are growing in popularity, they still account for only a fraction of the vehicles sold. Yet those pushing for energy independence say, though it may take a severe disruption in the flow of oil to bring consumers on board, they are confident it will happen.

XS
SM
MD
LG