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Conservatives for Conservation

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Defense and intelligence officials under former presidents Reagan and Bush are joining environmentalists in urging the White House to produce an energy bill that focuses on decreasing American oil consumption, saying the U.S.‘ oil addiction is a growing threat to national security.

Former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, former CIA director James Woolsey, and former Pentagon official Frank Gaffney were among prominent conservatives who signed a letter calling for higher fuel efficiency standards on cars and a focus on hybrid vehicles and other alternative energy sources, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The U.S. imports 60 percent of its oil, mostly from the Middle East, and that number is expected to keep rising. Demand from India and China is also quickly expanding, contributing to price increases. Fierce competition for what is ultimately a finite supply of oil may lead to international conflict.

The current Bush Administration proposes to solve this problem not by decreasing America’s dependence on oil, as these ex-officials wisely suggest, but by decreasing America’s dependence on foreign oil. Unfortunately, that distinction doesn’t really exist.

That’s because prices in the oil market are effectively set by the Organization of the Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC), an 11-country cartel controlling most of the world’s oil. Because cartels don’t operate on the open competitive market, their products don’t abide by the normal laws of supply and demand—so if America pumps more oil, Saudi Arabia or Iran or Kuwait or any of the other cartel members just pump less. Prices don’t drop, because OPEC limits the number of barrels produced per day.

A good example of this gas-price phenomenon is Britain. Thanks to its coastal reserves, Britain pumps about twice the oil its citizens need, and exports the rest. If oil prices operated the way President Bush and company maintain, a surplus of oil at home would mean that Britain could lower its domestic prices. But the Brits are feeling the same squeeze we are—according to the BBC, petrol prices hit a record high last week.

Those who throw around the “dependence on foreign oil” argument know this. They advocate more drilling, but they know that more oil, whether from ANWR or the Mountain West, doesn’t protect Americans from international energy crises any more than it lowers gas prices.

Environmental Working Group’s new investigation, "Losing Ground," shows that contrary to administration and industry claims, access to public lands in the West is already widespread. The mining and oil and gas industries actively control land in two-thirds of 1,855 of our nation’s parks, wildlife refuges, forests and other natural treasures. And despite that access, in the past 15 years the oil and gas industries have produced just 53 days of oil and 221 days of natural gas (at current consumption rates) from 12 Western states.

As Congress prepares to review its long-stalled energy bill, Americans have two choices. We can continue sticking our heads in the sand, ignoring the dangerous consequences of an energy policy centered on more oil. Or we can focus on policies that help us use less oil, reducing national security risks and lowering fuel costs for Americans while preserving our natural treasures for future generations. If we use less, we get more.

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