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Energy and Security: Solutions to Protect America's Power Supply and Reduce Oil Dependence

As the nation assesses its vulnerability to a range of outside threats, Congress and the administration are considering steps to develop a more secure energy future.

Problem: Dependence on Oil 
U.S. dependence on oil, particularly foreign oil, carries significant economic and political risks. We import 10 million barrels of oil and petroleum products each day—more than half our daily needs. To do so, we send roughly $200,000 each minute overseas to buy oil, contributing significantly to the U.S. trade deficit. Furthermore, the nations dominating the world oil market are located in historically unstable regions of the world, creating complex and delicate relationships for U.S. foreign policy.

False Security: Domestic Drilling
One proposed solution is to increase domestic oil supply. But domestic drilling and refining will have a negligible effect on the world oil market. Even if we opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling today, the first drop of oil would not reach
U.S. markets for 7–12 years. At its peak, Arctic Refuge production would yield only enough oil to meet the needs of
U.S. transportation for nine days.

A Better Solution: Fuel Economy
Two-thirds of the oil used in the United States goes for transportation. Passenger vehicles alone account for 40 percent of oil use, partly because the fuel economy of new cars and trucks is at a two-decade low.

Fortunately, off-the-shelf technologies can affordably and safely boost fuel economy by nearly 75 percent. By 2012, the average new vehicle could be getting 40 miles per gallon. In just
10 years, fuel economy could save more oil than all of the oil we'd ever be able to pump from the Arctic Refuge.

Moreover, because fuel-efficient cars cost less at the pump, the average driver will save more than $2,000 over the lifetime of the car. Burning less fuel also means relief from refinery pollution and reduced global warming emissions.

Industry and homes are also significant oil consumers. By 2020, energy efficiency improvements in industries and homes could save 25 percent more oil than is econo-mically recoverable from the Arctic Refuge over 60 years.

Problem: A Vulnerable Power Infrastructure 
Much of the U.S. energy system presents significant safety and security risks. Facilities recently put on heightened security alert include nuclear power plants, hydropower dams, pipelines, refineries, tankers, and the electricity transmission grid. The risks are obvious: A major accident at a nuclear plant could kill tens of thousands and contaminate an area the size of Pennsylvania. Reactor containments were not built to withstand the impact of a commercial jet. Rupturing the hold of a tanker containing liquefied natural gas could send flames over several miles.

False Security: More of the Same 
Clearly we cannot change our energy system overnight, so in the near term we must find ways of improving security at such facilities. But we can avoid adding to the problem. The administration's National Energy Policy and a recent House energy bill would add 1,300 to 1,900 new power plants (at the 300-megawatt size), including new nuclear plants. In addition, they call for 301,000 miles of new gas transmission and distribution pipelines and 7,000 miles of new electricity transmission lines.

Better Solutions: Efficiency and Renewable Generation
The quickest, least expensive solution is to ramp up energy efficiency. Higher appliance standards, stricter building codes, and tax incentives could rapidly shrink the amount of electricity we need.

Renewable energy would go even further toward improving the reliability and resilience of the electricity system. Wind farms and solar arrays carry none of the vulnerability of nuclear or fossil fuel plants. They are small and geographically dispersed, making them difficult to target. Moreover, they have no fuel supply that can be disrupted or volatile fuel stocks that can burn.

Expanding Energy Efficiency and Increasing Renewable Energy
to 20 percent of the total energy supply would reduce natural gas use by 31 percent compared to business as usual project-ions. We would eliminate the need for 975 new power plants of 300 megawatts each, as well as avoiding many miles of new gas pipelines and power lines. We could retire 14 existing nuclear power plants of 1,000 megawatts each and reduce coal generation by 60 percent, closing 180 coal plants of
500 megawatts each.

Consumers and the environment would also gain. Net consumer savings would total nearly $105 billion per year by 2020, $350 per year for the typical family. Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants would decrease by two-thirds compared to business as usual. Emissions of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, and of nitrogen oxides, which contribute to smog, would both drop by 55 percent.

True Energy Security
A strong policy to improve U.S. energy security must pursue reducing demand: for oil, for gas, for electricity. The technologies to do so are at hand. The steps are clear:


  • Raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that govern automobile fuel efficiency

  • Strengthen energy efficiency standards for appliances, buildings, and industry; and increase funding for state and utility efficiency programs

  • Adopt a renewable portfolio standard requiring 20 percent renewables nationwide by 2020

Our nation can achieve greatly improved energy security if we add the political will.

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