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Carlos B. Lopez, Constable

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Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - August 2008

“In little more than two decades we’ve gone from a position of energy independence to one in which almost half the oil we use comes from foreign countries, at prices that are going through the roof. This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our nation.”

These words were uttered in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter when gas cost about $.90 per gallon and our oil imports were about 45% of our oil needs. Today 66% of our oil is imported and gas is $4 per gallon. By 2020 unless something dramatically changes, it is estimated that 75% of our oil will come from foreign countries and gas could easily exceed $10 per gallon.

Unfortunately our energy challenges are far more complicated than they were 30 years ago. World oil production has or is about to peak and begin falling while the demand for oil, especially by emerging economies like China and India, continues to rise. Much of the oil that is available lies beneath unstable or hostile nations. Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens recently said that we could no longer “drill” our way out of this. And a scientific consensus is emerging that the emissions from the oil we do consume is having harmful, long lasting, and expensive impacts on our eco-system."

The auto industry and Congress should jointly launch a war-time like effort to develop and manufacturer far more fuel efficient vehicles. The development of more natural gas powered and hybrid plug-in vehicles would shift some vehicles from oil to natural gas and coal which we have in abundance. Tax incentives should be passed to encourage more Americans to make more fuel efficient choices. Lowering the speed limit to 55 mph would alone reduce U.S. fuel consumption by 2% (and save lives). Energy industry and environmental experts should commit to finding environmentally acceptable methods to increase production and use of known domestic energy resources. Funding for the development of alternative energy sources should be dramatically increased. We all will have to significantly reduce our energy consumption by using more public transit, better insulating our homes, and purchasing more efficient appliances and light bulbs. These are just a few of the undesirable, technologically challenging, and expensive options that will be necessary in order to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

However, any energy plan will also require one element that was not present 30 years ago when President Carter first challenged us to confront our oil addiction. We must have the political will to agree to a combination of strategies where every American citizen bears some of the burden and responsibility for their success. Should we fail to make energy independence a national priority, we would continue to compete in the World market for a limited, more expensive and diminishing product. Our economy would be hurt by increased energy costs. Our foreign policy would be driven even more by our need for oil than by our desire to support democracies and confront human rights abuses. It could become necessary to go to war in order to ensure our oil supplies.

President Carter was right. Our future economic and national security does depend on whether we can summon the will to make energy independence a national priority. Our response to this challenge will help determine whether future generations of Americans will be able to continue enjoy at least the quality of life and security that we have come to expect.



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