Key to Curing Our Oil Addiction: New Clean Energy Law

My friend Jim Woolsey writes rightly about ending America’s oil addiction in the Wall Street Journal.

His four-part solutions set is also reasonable, if incomplete – more efficient car technology, greater use of natural gas in where appropriate in the vehicle fleet (click here for a fact sheet on why there’s a better way to go with most vehicles), making sure cars can run on low-carbon, sustainable biofuels as well as gasoline, and electrifying our car and truck fleet.

But where Jim is badly off-the-mark is his throwaway line on legislation that would cap pollution and sell a limited number of permits to polluters. Putting such a policy in place could actually cut our current oil import level in half. Here’s how:

  • It makes smart, serious investments in deployment of the solutions Jim names. With cars and trucks, legislation would complement the national vehicle greenhouse gas and fuel economy program launched by the Obama Administration, which is raising the bar for performance of the fleet in the coming decades, and assuming it keeps rising you and me could save serious money at the gas pump and the nation could save two million barrels a day by 2030. By sending the signal that the U.S. is serious about moving away from oil it will make all three options cited by Jim -- natural gas, biofuels and electricity -- more competitive. And it should include performance-based manufacturer financing and consumer incentives to speed up commercialization of these new fuel choices.
  • Second, there’s an overlooked effect a bill would have, one marrying safe capture and disposal of carbon pollution with recovery of additional oil from “dry wells.” A tried-and-true industry technique for boosting the recovery rate in such cases happens to be injection of pollution underground. The potential is very large -- more than 3 million barrels a day by 2030 -- as this analysis commissioned by NRDC shows.
  • Third, as my colleague Andy Stevenson notes, a policy that clamps down on oil and carbon pollution would leverage private sector action, spurring a near-doubling of investments in clean energy technology – including the items on Jim’s list -- from now until 2030. That’s a $13 trillion market, and U.S. industry needs the right policy context for growing into a net exporter in it, generating almost two million new jobs in the process.

So with new clean energy policy driving cleaner cars and more domestic production we can cut our current oil import level in half and launch a clean energy revolution. This is our moment, and I look forward to working with Jim and other allies to capitalize on it.