STANFORD UNIVERSITY —”Oil is ammunition,” read a World War II poster encouraging conservation. That message is just as appropriate today, according to John Warner, the former five-term senator from Virginia.
The United States must reduce its consumption of fossil fuels not only for environmental reasons, but to improve its economic and national security, said Warner and former Secretary of State George Shultz, a distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution and professor emeritus at the Graduate School of Business. The two senior Republicans outlined their vision for how to enact a national energy policy at a conference hosted by Stanford last week.
Successful bipartisan support for such a policy will require bringing together three different constituencies focused on the environment, the economy and national security, said the two leaders.
“We need a comprehensive energy framework. We need to describe the problem and tell the public that it’s as important as any other aspect of national security. And we’re going to have to leave these rules in place for a period of time so there’s some continuity,” Warner said at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Accelerating Clean Energy conference, which was co-hosted by the Hoover Institution’s Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy and Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy.
Regardless of which countries ship oil to the United States, American demand in the global oil market pumps dollars to unfriendly regimes like Iran, which is trying to build nuclear weapons, said Shultz. “There is a huge national security element to the energy issue,” he said.
Even more directly, the GOP dignitaries and other conference speakers said, the armed services’ dependence on oil is a tremendous security problem in war zones. In Iraq and Afghanistan fuel shipments account for 80% of supply convoys; military personnel are injured or killed in about one of every 50 convoys in those two wars, according to Phyllis Cuttino, the director of the Pew Clean Energy Program.
The Department of Defense has moved to reduce its oil vulnerability. The Pentagon increased investments in clean energy from $400 million to $1.2 billion between 2006 and 2009, and it forecasts such investments to reach $10 billion by 2030. Frontline soldiers are recharging batteries with portable solar panels, reducing the need for oil-fired generators. At home, the military has cut energy consumption aggressively at its bases, which is important because the U.S. Defense Department is one of the world’s largest consumers of fossil fuels.
The near-term chances of Congress acting so decisively, however, are not great, according to Warner and Shultz. “President Obama has done admirable work incentivizing America in terms of energy use,” said Warner, “but Congress is not carrying out its responsibilities.”
The Shultz-Stephenson Task Force is studying the possibility of developing a policy for a revenue-neutral carbon tax, which would reduce taxes for every dollar raised by a carbon tax. The revenue-neutral component, plus the elimination of energy industry subsidies and many regulations, would be necessary to garner the support of Republicans. But even a broad coalition based on security, economy and environmental concerns could not get a carbon tax passed until after the 2012 presidential elections, as task force members said at Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project symposium earlier this month. The task force is using the time to develop the details of this complex carbon-tax proposal.
Shultz remains optimistic. “The fact that we have major energy problems is obvious. The fact that we have ways of dealing with it is also becoming obvious,” Shultz said Monday. “There is growing impatience for Congress to do something about it. The voting public is way ahead of elected officials on this.”
Mark Golden is a communications/energy writer at the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University.
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