Independence, strong growth

What do Americans want in an energy policy? They don’t want an energy policy that leaves the price of their trip to the grocery store beholden to foreign events and the fluctuations of a volatile commodities market. They don’t want an energy policy that threatens our legacy of clean air and clean water for their children. They don’t want an energy policy that leaves us dependent on the Middle East, with huge problems for our national security. And they certainly don’t want an energy policy that works better to create jobs overseas than it does to create growing jobs and industries here at home.

Yet all of these things are at the heart of our current energy policy. The U.S. government gives away more than $4 billion in subsidies each year to Big Oil, some of the most profitable companies on the planet. American families and businesses are sending about $1 billion a day overseas to fund our oil addiction. And despite decades of hand-wringing, we have no long-term plan to end our dependence on overseas oil or to ensure that we create new energy industries — and new jobs — on American soil. This is not a sustainable path.

There is a different direction going forward: breaking our economy’s dependence on oil, particularly the oil we import from overseas, and transitioning aggressively to American-made energy that will ensure cleaner, more affordable and more stable power for our economy. 

Getting there doesn’t require everyone to carpool to work and mothball their cars. It doesn’t require a miraculous new technological breakthrough. It just requires that we stand up to some entrenched special interests and make a commitment to utilize technologies that are already within reach.

Last year, I introduced the Oil Independence for a Stronger America Act, with Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.). By following this plan, our nation could achieve independence from overseas oil in the next 20 years, all using existing technology and know-how.

Contrary to what many in Washington believe, weaning our economy off foreign oil and transitioning to cleaner, American-made energy sources is not antithetical to strong growth. The truth is just the opposite. The $1 billion per day that we spend on our overseas oil addiction adds up to a $365 billion industry each year. Think about the tremendous growth we could create if we harnessed that money for job creation here at home!

The Oil Independence for a Stronger America Act uses six key principles to reduce our dependence on overseas oil and create American energy jobs:

First, if we are going to break our addiction to oil, we must cut down on the amount of oil we need to power our cars. The roadmap takes steps to make vehicles more fuel efficient, including accelerating the deployment of plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars as well as high-mileage gas cars. President Obama got us off to a good start by negotiating new fuel economy standards with major auto manufacturers and other key stakeholders. 

Second, we must ensure that families and businesses have true transportation options. Too many families live in neighborhoods where they have little choice but to drive to get to work and run errands. Planning should focus on moving people, not cars, and open up new public transit options for families. 

Third, we need to move freight more efficiently. This includes utilizing aerodynamic designs and deploying natural-gas trucks on established routes with the appropriate infrastructure. It also includes shifting freight from trucks to more efficient barges and railroad cars.

Fourth, we should develop alternatives to foreign oil. This can include changing Gulf leases the Big Oil companies are controlling to “use it or lose it” leases. In addition, advanced biofuels have powerful potential to fuel vehicles, boost our rural communities and create greater energy security. 

Fifth, we can cut down on the use of oil to heat buildings. By renovating our buildings to be more energy efficient, families and businesses can save money on their energy bills while decreasing consumption of heating oil.

Finally, the roadmap creates a National Council on Energy Security within the White House to sustain focus on reducing the use of oil from one presidency to the next — ensuring that whichever way the political pendulum sways, America never loses sight of our long-term goal. 

We face a choice. We can stick with what we know and hate: an addiction to foreign oil, and the price shocks, financial booms and busts, national security problems and pollution that result. Or we can resolve today to transition to a new energy future with strategies that create red, white and blue American clean-energy jobs.

The choice is clear. We just need the political will to finally reach for the cleaner, more secure future that is waiting for us.

Merkley is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.