U.S. addiction to oil threatens security

Posted June 14, 2010, at 3:01 p.m.

Summer is the time when we honor the sacrifices of our service men and women. We celebrate Independence Day, remember D-Day, and honor those who gave their lives in defense of our country on Memorial Day. But summer is also the time during which many Americans take to the roads for travel and vacations.

This summer, it is important to reflect on both of these, to understand the connection between national security and energy, and to start working on solutions here in Maine that can end our oil addiction.

We are seeing one of the most devastating consequences of this oil dependency as BP’s oil disaster worsens every day in the Gulf of Mexico. And yet the full costs of our oil addiction are even more profound than the consequences of this devastating tragedy. Ending our dependence on oil is a challenge we should embrace as we face the price of inaction.

Perhaps the single greatest underappreciated threat to U.S. national security today comes from our over-reliance on oil as the energy source for much of the American transportation sector. We use nearly 400 million gallons of oil every day moving people in automobiles, goods on freight truck, air travel, rail and transit. Cars and light trucks use the lion’s share of this oil – some 9 million barrels of oil per day. A new approach to a transportation system that cuts the connection to oil is required.

Oil consumption by the transportation sectors also contributes significantly to global warming pollution. Climate change will cost Americans hundreds of billions of dollars over the coming decades, as sea levels rise swamping large areas of Florida and other coastal states, and the changing climate decimates agricultural production in many of our largest farm states.

Additionally, continued oil dependence could mean more tragedies like the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. If we remain dependent on oil and if we allow more offshore drilling along our coasts, it leaves us open to spills that destroy the local economy and environment.

Our oil addiction also threatens our economic security. Most of our oil is produced overseas, and every day Americans send over $1 billion abroad to pay for this oil. The result is lost jobs and more dollars in the hands of foreigners who we increasingly rely upon to finance our deficits.

We borrow money from the Chinese to buy oil from the Saudis, leaving us in debt and dependent on the goodwill of others to allow our economy to function. Oil dependence constitutes a direct national security threat, giving leverage and money to potential adversaries, and risking embroiling the U.S. in endless conflicts abroad to secure access to oil.

America can do better – we can end our oil addiction. Indeed, solutions abound already in our great nation. To start, the Environmental Protection Agency has provided a starting path for saving almost 7 million barrels per day of oil in 2030 from transportation. This goal is a down payment for ensuring we are using the tools we have to reduce oil dependence in the transportation sector. We can go even farther, we can surpass that goal and we can send oil producers, and oil markets, a signal – America is serious about ending its addiction to oil.

Many communities are making public transit more available and building neighborhoods where families don’t need to use their car to get where they’re going.

Improving fuel economy standards for all vehicles, electrifying vehicles of all types, investing in rail for freight and commuting, creating livable communities where transit, walking and biking are important – these are all real and oil-free choices.

America’s dependence on oil to power its transportation sector is a threat. Every day that we fail to act is a day that we continue to place American security, economy and climate in jeopardy.

So this summer, we should honor the brave men and women who fought for this country, and at the same time we should examine what we can do to mitigate the threat to American security of oil dependence.

Joan Saxe is a member of the executive committee of the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club. Readers can learn more about the threat of oil dependence to our energy security in a new report from the Sierra Club and the American Security Project. www.SierraClub.org or www.AmericanSecurityProject.org/.

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