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Switching cars to natural gas would achieve energy independence

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA)  wouldn’t claim to be an expert on the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, but we have long supported diversifying our energy resources – oil, natural gas, nuclear, coal, wind and solar – and our sources of supply – domestic and foreign. 
 
President Obama said in his speech, “Oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves.” He stressed energy efficiency, green energy and “a comprehensive energy and climate bill to make clean energy profitable… Old factories are reopening to produce wind turbines, people are going back to work installing energy-efficient windows, and small businesses are making solar panels… Some have suggested raising efficiency standards in our buildings like we did in our cars and trucks. Some believe we should set standards to ensure that more of our electricity comes from wind and solar power… [We have to] “seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels.”
 
It would make sense to slash the percentage of the world’s oil America consumes. And the source of our oil imports matters greatly, as Providence and geology put a great deal of it under countries currently governed by people with interests inimical to ours. But building efficiency standards, thermal windows and wind turbines won’t do it and a “comprehensive climate bill” is a red herring. 
 
The Energy Information Administration (EIA), the source of government energy statistics, tells us that most of the oil used in this country goes into transportation – gasoline and diesel fuel for cars, trucks, buses, railroads, boats; jet fuel; and the fuel oil used for tankers and other large vessels. (2/3 of the transportation oil is turned into gasoline for cars.) Other uses of oil – heating, factory operation, electricity generation, etc. – have declined considerably. According to the EIA, “while oil continues to account for more than 95 percent of all the energy used for transportation in the United States, oil accounts for less than 20 percent of the energy consumed for other, stationary uses, down from 30 percent in 1973.”
 
The American “addiction to fossil fuels” is really a car problem. Americans won’t give up their cars any time soon, hybrids only nibble the edges of the problem, and when gas prices fall, sales of bigger cars rise (now, for example, as compared to the $4.25/gal we paid after Hurricane Katrina). What if we tried something radical – a public-private partnership?
 
The public part would be the President making a national security finding that importing oil from the Persian Gulf and Venezuela is a threat to American national security interests. He could mandate that American automobiles run on natural gas, which is in abundant domestic supply, within a specified amount of time. Existing cars could be retrofitted (they do it in Argentina) and new cars can be configured. The mandate is the public part. The private part would be auto companies producing the cars and gasoline stations (or “filling stations” as they used to be called and will be called again) creating the infrastructure to make the profit.  
 
The 20 percent of current oil usage that is not transportation-related could come from Canada.
 
It is not the only way, of course, but any serious move would take a truly bold President – one who understands that imported oil funds terrorism and anti-Americanism around the world, and believes domestic oil is a risk for other reasons. It would take a President who would be pleased, not upset, by the howling of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Russia as oil prices fell in response to diminished American purchase.   
 
It would take a President who is serious.

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

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