It’s time to get serious about energy security

And we are also reminded of the heavy price our country pays, in terms of economic growth and national security, for our over-reliance on oil imports. Energy security, that is, cutting imports and making our whole economy more energy efficient, should be — and can be — a major issue with strong bipartisan support. 

There is little disagreement that our oil dependence is a significant threat to our economy and security. A disruption of oil supplies due to war, political instability, terrorism, embargo or other causes is one of the most troubling and likely short-term threats to our economy. 

Yet Washington has failed to focus sufficient attention on our oil vulnerability and generate momentum behind substantive, concrete proposals with definable goals around which the country could unite. President Bush’s declaration in his 2006 State of the Union address that we are “addicted to oil” was an extraordinary statement from a president so closely associated with the petroleum industry. Although he took some steps to support alternate energy and raise the priority of energy security, his energy proposals barely registered in the American consciousness.

The Obama administration tried to make energy a signature issue through the vehicle of climate change. His administration bet it could address energy security through the cap-and-trade mechanism and other strategies to reduce carbon admissions. 

However, it vastly overestimated support for comprehensive climate legislation and underestimated the amount of opposition the climate change focus would stir up regarding energy-security issues. What could have been a subject ripe for bipartisan cooperation became instead one of the most polarizing areas of domestic policy.

It is now time to address our energy vulnerability by focusing on the issue directly and forcefully. We cannot wait to act until our economy is crippled by an oil embargo, or terrorists cut our oil lifeline, or we slide into war because oil wealth has emboldened anti-American regimes. 

As a nation, the United States should declare it will achieve particular goals related to overcoming our oil dependence. These goals, if achieved, should constitute irrefutable and irreversible progress that would be noticed by our enemies and allies. The president should devote time to these goals every week. He should welcome the help of both parties and share credit along the way.

Ideally, such a program would take on a symbolic identity that transcends dry provisions in energy bills. We could, for instance, set a national goal to make competitively priced biofuels available to every motorist in America, or to increase dramatically the fuel economy of our auto fleet, even as we increase domestic oil production. In the power sector, we could establish the national goal of making the U.S. economy the most energy-efficient in world. Reducing energy intensity would increase the productivity of our nation’s businesses and propel U.S. global competitiveness. 

Progress toward oil independence should stimulate American pride, much as Brazil’s achievement in making ethanol the major transportation fuel stirs pride in that country.

Last year I, along with Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), introduced a “Practical Energy Plan,” to address oil-
import vulnerability, energy efficiency and issues in our electric power sector. The plan was designed to help Americans save money and energy while assuring the maximum bang per taxpayer buck.

 Experts at the independent ClimateWorks Foundation, working with consultants McKinsey & Company, calculated that enactment of the Practical Plan as introduced in the last Congress would reduce the need for imported oil by 40 percent by 2030, cut the average American’s energy bill by 15 percent, and cut power demand by 11 percent. The plan would have significant impact and is achievable in today’s difficult political environment. 

The point is: Overcoming U.S. oil dependence is a national-security imperative, and an energy-efficient economy will save Americans money. This is fertile ground for bipartisan cooperation. I urge Congress and President Obama to seize it.

Sen. Lugar is the ranking 
Republican on the Foreign 
Relations Committee.