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National Security & Oil: "Dangerous Addiction" Report Outlines Risks of Import Dependence, Offers Roadmap to Save 5 Million Barrels Per Day

With Senate Poised to Debate Energy, Plan Poses Challenge to White House, Congress

WASHINGTON (January 16, 2002) -- America uses a quarter of the world's oil, but has only 3 percent of known reserves. Today we import more than half of our oil from some of the unstable regions of the world. Events since September 11 highlight the danger in turning a blind eye to oil dependence. Our biggest challenge is to reduce the amount of oil we use to run our passenger vehicles.

Domestic drilling won't solve the problem; the only way to end the economic and security risks of this imbalance is to cut our import dependence by using better cars and better fuels. "Dangerous Addiction: Ending America's Oil Dependence," a new report from NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), details the security threat and offers a practical simple, five-step plan to cut the oil needed for our cars and light trucks in half, saving 5 million barrels per day by 2020.

"Washington has been dragging its feet on energy security. Now we face the risk of finishing another war with Middle East origins without a solution in place," said John Podesta, former White House chief of staff, now a senior fellow at NRDC. "It's time for the president and Congress to reverse course, and tackle this national security priority."

The report presents steps we can take now, using American technology and know-how, to reduce the oil needed to power America's cars and light trucks. We can cut that oil demand in half by 2020 -- and give American consumers the best and safest driving choices in the world -- by building better vehicles and making better fuels.

"Detroit has the technology to end our oil addiction," said Jason Mark, director of the Clean Vehicles Program at UCS. "If cars and trucks live up to their technological potential, by 2010 we can save more oil annually than we currently import from Saudi Arabia."


Solving a Dangerous Addiction

Sixty-five percent of the world's known reserves lie beneath the Persian Gulf states. If we do not act, the share of our oil that is imported will grow from one-half to nearly two-thirds by 2020. While oil prices are down for the moment, Middle East instability makes for a situation that could change at any moment. New suppliers such as Russia and the Caspian region are hardly more sound.

Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would increase world reserves by less than one-third of 1 percent. That makes an energy strategy based only on drilling for new oil at home into a recipe for continued dependence on these unstable regions.

The report offers solutions to reduce our oil dependence with no reduction in safety, performance, or vehicle choice. Together, they could cut oil use by passenger vehicles nearly a quarter by 2012, and 50 percent in 2020 compared with business-as-usual.

The NRDC-UCS Action Plan to Curb Oil Dependence Includes:

  • Improving the fuel economy of new vehicles powered by gasoline-engine technology. Congress should steadily increase standards for the combined fleet of cars and light trucks to 40 mpg by 2012 and 55 mpg by 2020.

  • Mass-producing gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, which get double the mileage of today's cars. Toyota and Honda already have hybrids on the road, and more are coming. Lawmakers should provide consumer tax credits to support the transition to this new technology.

  • Expanding use of renewable, non-petroleum fuels, such as ethanol made from crop wastes, by steadily increasing requirements for "renewable content" in gasoline.

  • Putting hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles on the road using incentives and requirements to ramp up production to 100,000 vehicles by 2010 and 2.5 million by 2020. These vehicles would use one-third the energy of today's cars (none of it from oil) and produce near-zero pollution.

  • Encouraging "smart growth" instead of suburban sprawl to increase our transportation choices and make communities more livable with less driving.

The first step alone -- raising fuel economy standards -- would save nearly 4 billion barrels of oil over the next dozen years. By 2012, we could save nearly 2 million barrels every day -- a savings of 18 percent below business-as-usual projections. That is slightly more oil than we imported from Saudi Arabia last year, and three times our imports from Iraq. By 2020, savings would grow to nearly 5 million barrels per day, almost twice as much as our current total imports from the Persian Gulf.

That would mean big savings for consumers at the gas pump: a person buying a 40 mpg car in 2012 would save a net of $2,200 over the life of the vehicle. Total consumer savings from all of these policies would equal nearly $13 billion per year in 2012, and almost $30 billion by 2020.

These measures would cut heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other global warming emissions by more than 440 million tons in 2012, and more than a billion tons in 2020. By 2020 we would avoid more than 1 billion pounds worth of smog-forming emissions annually.


The High Cost of Oil Imports

American drivers used more than 120 billion gallons of gasoline in 2000, costing $186 billion. If fuel economy does not improve, passenger-vehicle fuel use will increase more than 50 percent by 2020, to almost 190 billion gallons per year. The United States spent $106 billion -- about $380 per person -- importing crude oil and petroleum products in 2000. By 2020, oil import spending is expected to hit $160 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, an increase of more than 50 percent.

The environmental impacts of oil addiction are enormous: Cars and passenger trucks are the second largest U.S. source of carbon dioxide pollution warming, emitting 1.3 billion tons of this heat-trapping gas in 2000. Emissions of smog- and cancer-causing air pollutants are a persistent problem.

Oil addiction also creates constant pressure to drill unspoiled wilderness areas such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Florida and California coasts, Utah's Redrock canyon country, and lands near Yellowstone National Park. Meanwhile, oil spills pose a constant threat to the land, water, wildlife, and coastal livelihoods. Almost 1.5 million gallons of oil were spilled into U.S. waters in 2000.


We Can Do It

A safer, more secure energy future is well within the reach of America's industrial prowess. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and other independent analysts have demonstrated that a 40 mpg fleet average is achievable within a decade, using technology that is available today.

America already has proven that such strides are possible. Fuel economy for new passenger cars nearly doubled between 1975, when standards were first adopted, and their peak in 1988. Fuel economy for new light trucks increased by 50 percent. But the rules haven't changed since 1985. Average mileage of our new cars and trucks today is at its lowest level in 21 years.

"These proposals are the best way to curb our reliance on Middle Eastern oil," said Podesta. "We can regain control over our future by providing American consumers with the safest and best performing passengers vehicles in the world. This is the road to increase our national security, strengthen our economy, and protect our environment."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Union of Concerned Scientists is a nonprofit partnership of scientists and citizens combining rigorous scientific analysis, innovative policy development, and effective citizen advocacy to achieve practical environmental solutions. UCS is online at www.ucsusa.org.

Related NRDC Pages
Dangerous Addiction: Ending America's Oil Dependence

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