The President is correct -- the U.S. is too dependent on foreign sources of energy, a necessary and vital component to national security. Government policies should do more to promote domestic energy production in all its forms, including but not exclusively related to motor fuels.
The fact of the matter is that the country is over 70% self-sufficient when we consider total energy (coal, nuclear, hydro, renewables, gas, etc). Although much of that dependence relates to oil, the U.S. does not import nearly as much from the Middle East as some suggest. As energy expert Daniel Yergin recently pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, “[s]ome 81% of oil imports do not come from that region. Thus, only 19% of imports -- and 12% of total petroleum consumption -- originates in the Middle East.” It may surprise many readers that the U.S. imports most of its oil not from Arab Sheiks but from our friends in Canada.
Yet, even though North America is blessed with abundant energy resources, small businesses, manufacturers, and families across the country have experienced high and volatile energy prices. The reason: our energy and environmental policies are conflicted. Even former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan noted, “[w]e have been struggling to reach an agreeable tradeoff between environmental and energy concerns for decades. I do not doubt we will continue to fine-tune our areas of consensus. But it is essential that our policies be consistent.”
In my leadership position, I have worked to make our policies more consistent, but the challenges are formidable. Although many Democrats say that they are concerned with high energy prices they consistently vote against reasonable policies that would lower them, and in fact pursue policies that increase them. For example, Democrats have repeatedly voted against proposals to increase oil and gas production (remember ANWR?). Further, members of the Massachusetts delegation snuck a provision into the transportation bill that effectively blocked construction of an already certified Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal in Falls River. What is particularly galling about this example is not that they blocked a project that would reduce gas prices in the region by 20 percent, but that they expect the rest of us to pay for it. After they blocked the project they sought to increase funding (aka, your money) for the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program -- one that largely benefits the cold Northeast.
In an effort to reduce motor fuel prices, I tried to move the Gas PRICE Act (S. 1772
) -- a bill that would improve the permitting process for the construction of new and expansion of existing petroleum, renewable fuel, and coal-to-liquids facilities. Although both Democrat Presidential front-runners, Senators Clinton and Obama claim to support biofuels and coal-to-liquids, they both voted against my bill. Instead, they voted in favor of a Democrat alternative that would socialize refining capacity by placing the Environmental Protection Agency in charge of designing and operating these facilities. Thankfully, their proposal was defeated along party lines last Congress. I remain concerned about what they may try now that they are in the majority.
The Democrats’ response to the State of the Union was exceptional in its lack of information. Sen. Webb pointed out that our manufacturing base is hurting, yet he failed to mention that his party could have eased that pain years ago if they only joined Republicans to address the natural gas crisis. Instead, their party has pursued the not-in-my-backyard policies similar to their Massachusetts’ colleagues.
I have mixed feelings over the President’s proposal. I applaud his focus on increasing domestic energy production, and look forward to learning the details of the plan, where I expect to find quite a number of devils. As the past chairman of the Committee with jurisdiction over motor fuels, I held several hearings on ethanol. The President’s proposal raises many important questions that must carefully be weighed before proceeding. The nation’s fuels and distribution system is complex and we must consider the unintended consequences to the related industries, but most importantly to motorists and families across the country.
Secure energy supply must be grounded in three key principles -- stable, diverse, and affordable. I hope that the President will convince me that his proposal meets that test. In the meantime, I encourage him to broaden the proposal to include all forms of domestic energy production including oil, gas, nuclear, coal, as well as renewable forms. I also encourage my Democratic colleagues to move beyond their rhetoric and embrace the energy that has made this country great -- unfortunately, I am not too optimistic that will happen, as long as the anti-growth forces hold such sway in the Democrat Party.
Mr. Inhofe, a Republican, is ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.