With America's oil dependence growing, and gas prices skyrocketing, it is long past time for Congress to act. Unfortunately, the U.S. House of Representatives is set to consider energy legislation that would make us less secure, not more. That measure is essentially the same-old bill (H.R. 6) that puts the interest of oil companies ahead of clean, efficient technologies and failed to pass in the last Congress.

What America needs -- and now -- is a forward-looking comprehensive national energy policy that promotes clean, renewable energy, increased energy efficiency and better fuel economy. But the White House and its congressional allies are still pushing for legislation that would take us down the wrong path, at the wrong time. Here's how:

National Insecurity

The House energy bill would fail to reduce our nation's dangerous dependence on oil. An Energy Department analysis concluded that U.S. oil consumption would decrease less than .01 percent by 2025 as a result of H.R. 6. (See the report.) According to a new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, neither the energy bill now being touted by the White House and key Republicans, nor drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, would make a meaningful dent in U.S. dependence on foreign oil. (See the report.)

The reason that America cannot drill its way to energy independence is that the problem has less to do with our reliance on oil from unstable foreign countries than it does with our dependence on oil -- period. Oil is a global commodity, after all, and the price is set by the global market. As a result, even if our nation didn't import any oil from the Middle East, we would still face a price spike from a terrorist attack on oil infrastructure in that region. Again, it's about our dependence on oil, not just foreign oil.

While concern over oil dependence and national security has focused for the most part on our country's vulnerability to disruptions in oil supply (such as the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s) and record gas prices, scant attention has been paid to how oil revenues finance terrorist activities. Each time we fill up at the pump, a portion of what we pay goes to the Middle East, where some of the money is then funneled to terrorists.

Frank J. Gaffney, a member of the neo-conservative movement that pushed for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and who now runs the Center for Security Policy think tank, has said that it is no longer tenable to send billions of dollars in oil proceeds to the Middle East. (See the Washington Post article.)

"It's a recipe for disaster," said Gaffney. "Most of the places we import from have regimes that are at best unstable and at worst openly hostile to the United States... What are we doing giving all this money to the people who are trying to kill us?"

It makes sense that shutting off the flow of money to terrorists is vital to our national security. All the more reason for an energy bill that truly promises to reduce our use of -- and need for -- oil. The House bill currently under consideration is not the answer.

Polluter Payday

The House energy bill not only jeopardizes our long-term national security, but it also threatens public health and the environment. If past is prologue, the bill would rip off American taxpayers by doling out more than $37 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to the oil, nuclear and coal industries -- that's more than twice the amount allocated for renewable energy and energy efficiency, according to analysis by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Some of the subsidies in the bill would:

  • Allow the Interior Secretary to reimburse oil and gas companies when they pay for environmental review of their projects;

  • Provide production tax credits for "advanced" nuclear reactors -- the credits could be used to build any type of nuclear reactor, including one using conventional technologies; and
  • Extend for 20 years the Price Anderson Act liability limits for nuclear plant operators, which would guarantee limited liability for the nuclear industry in case of a catastrophic accident.

In addition, the energy bill -- with its more pollution solution -- would threaten public health by:

  • Extending deadlines for cleanup of ground-level ozone air pollution in areas that violate the federal clean air standard;

  • Exempting from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act the underground injection of chemicals during oil and gas development; and
  • Postponing a ban on MBTE -- a toxic gasoline additive that has contaminated drinking water -- until December 2014.

Finally, the energy bill would expand destructive oil and gas exploration and development on pristine public lands and in fragile coastal areas by:

  • Allowing applicants for federal drilling permits to take up to two years to comply with application requirements, but requiring the Bureau of Land Management to make decisions on drilling permit applications in only ten days;

  • Expanding oil and gas development in our last, best places, such as the Arctic Refuge, Padre Island National Seashore, New Mexico's Villa Vidal and Otero Mesa wildlands, and other areas; and
  • Weakening the ability of states (under the Coastal Zone Management Act) to have a say in federal activities that affect their coasts, including limiting appeals related to pipeline construction or offshore energy development.