February 28, 2009
The United States needs a comprehensive energy policy both to fight global warming and to strengthen national security. The policies for achieving these two goals are largely, although not completely, overlapping, but the relationship between them is complex.
Many major oil-producing nations are either overtly hostile to the United States or have national interests inimical to ours. Although the United States buys foreign oil mainly from friendly powers such as Canada and Mexico, our seemingly insatiable thirst for this commodity contributes to sustaining high world oil prices, thereby benefiting hostile powers, even if we do not buy from them directly.
The windfall profits earned by hostile oil-producing nations empower them to pursue policies that are detrimental to U. S. interests including funding terrorism against both the United States and Israel. These nations, however, are heavily dependent on their oil revenues and their economies are thus highly vulnerable to falling oil prices. The United States has the ability to implement policies that would put significant downward pressure on world oil prices. Such policies have the potential of weakening the economies of hostile oil-producing nations thereby undermining their ability to pursue policies harmful to the U. S. and Israel. Falling oil prices would also have a beneficial effect on food commodity prices that are highly sensitive to energy costs.
Increased domestic drilling for oil would also put downward pressure on world oil prices. However, this should not be viewed as a permanent measure, because while benefiting national security, it would imperil our natural environment.
As an example of the interplay between environmental and national security goals, transferring the energy requirements of our transportation sector to the electric grid would reduce our dependence on oil, thereby lowering its world price. Although this would contribute to enhancing our national security, its effect on global warming would depend on how the extra electricity was produced. If produced by renewable sources such as wind, solar, and/or geothermal, the effect on climate change would be beneficial. Producing it with coal, on the other hand, would offset, although perhaps not completely, any environmental benefits resulting from reduced gasoline consumption. It should be noted that, since at present there is excess generating capacity in the electric grid at night, and since most fully electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles will be recharged at night, there should be no measureable change in the amount of coal consumed for a number of years.
By enacting a renewable electricity standard, the U. S. could require energy companies to produce a significant percentage of their electricity from renewable sources, thus decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.
Substituting biofuels for oil in our transportation sector would also put downward pressure on world oil prices and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. However, not all biofuels are created equal. Ethanol produced from corn is inefficient in terms of its energy yield relative to the energy required to produce it. Moreover, diverting corn to fuel for vehicles has the potential of putting upward pressure on food prices with adverse effects on world food supplies. While ethanol from sugar cane, produced mainly in Brazil, is much more efficient than corn-based ethanol, it too diverts a food crop to fuel for vehicles. U. S. imports of ethanol from sugar cane are currently inhibited by high tariffs. Methanol is another biofuel that could be used to fuel our transportation fleet and, like ethanol, it requires the availability of flex fuel vehicles. Cellulosic biofuels and biodiesel from algae would not divert food crops to fuel for vehicles, but more research and development is needed to explore their full potential.
The JCPA believes that:
- The United States should develop a comprehensive energy plan aimed both at mitigating the effects of climate change and at enhancing national security.
- Cap and trade programs or carbon taxes should be supported, since they would result in more appropriate pricing of fossil fuels by taking account of externalities, such as environmental effects, that purely market-based prices ignore.
- More investment in the public transportation sector should be supported.
- The development and production of a broad range of alternative energy sources, especially those that do not compete for the word’s food supply such as cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel from algae, should be supported. We also support governmental incentives designed to spur scientific and technological advances aimed at reducing the generation of greenhouse gases and the consumption of non-renewable fuels. Measures to increase the importation of ethanol derived from sugar cane from countries such as Brazil should be considered. The manufacture of flex fuel vehicles should also be encouraged.
- A renewable electricity standard should be enacted to require energy companies to produce a significant percentage of their electricity from clean, renewable energy sources.”
The JCPA and its member agencies should:
- Advocate for the positions stated above to opinion leaders both locally and nationally and to the Obama Administration and the new Congress.
- Advocate for the development of environmentally friendly mass transit systems using green technology and cluster housing communities that can use mass transit systems.
- Advocate for support for research and development of a broad range of bio-fuels and alternative energy sources.