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The View from NRDC

Oil-Fueled Foreign Policy

Once again, we find ourselves embroiled in a difficult and painful game of global brinkmanship that is -- at least in part -- a product of our own making. There is no real consensus behind our policy in Iraq or in that entire region. That's partly because many Americans, on all sides of these issues, think that some of our policies are driven by our thirst for oil.

It's because of this unquenchable thirst, and our leaders' inability to develop plans to reduce our energy dependence, that we find ourselves in crisis after crisis in the Middle East. We also know that these crises can strike home. Many of us wonder to what extent our oil addiction might have contributed to the horrible attack we suffered on a clear September morning not long ago.

NRDC has been working on cutting U.S. oil consumption for thirty years. We have made great progress. But we have also seen the best solutions -- public transportation and automobile fuel efficiency -- shortchanged or ignored by politicians more interested in Detroit's campaign contributions than in our well-being. The foreign policy patterns will never change until we solve our oil problem.

We already know how to do this. One example: If Congress raises fuel economy standards for all new cars to 40 miles per gallon -- and this is technologically possible right now -- by the year 2020 we'll be saving 4 million barrels of oil every day. That's more than we now import from the Persian Gulf.

Our addiction to Persian Gulf oil puts our independence and security at stake. Our heritage is at stake too. The oil industry and President Bush are telling us that the way to deal with our energy problem is to drill at home -- indiscriminately. To many, that sounds like a good option. But we cannot drill our way to energy independence. Sixty-five percent of the world's known oil reserves are in the Persian Gulf; the United States has only 3 percent. And yet we account for 26 percent of the demand. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- one of the president's main targets -- would give us only six months of U.S. oil supply, ten years from now. Ironically, 95 percent of federal lands in the Rocky Mountains are already open for oil exploration.

This past January, six Republican senators showed the country how to rise above petty politics and work on our nation's real priorities. They wrote to the Senate leadership to ask that the Arctic Refuge not be sold off by stealth. The choice to drill, they said, should never be hidden in a budget bill and passed without public debate.

The six senators -- Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL), and John McCain (R-AZ) -- deserve the thanks of every American. Sending that letter was an act of principle that reaffirmed out core national values. In these troubled times, those American values are more important than ever.

John H. Adams

Visit NRDC's Earth Action Center and help make the difference in urgent environmental battles -- breaking our dependency on oil, saving the Arctic Refuge, many more.

OnEarth. Spring 2003
Copyright 2003 by the Natural Resources Defense Council