In a September Shocker, Energy Conferees Move to Increase America's Dependence on Foreign Oil and Raise Threat of Nuclear Proliferation

WASHINGTON (September 12, 2002) -- A day after the nation commemorated the tragic loss of American lives in last year's terrorist attacks, House energy bill conferees sent to the Senate their proposal on automobile fuel economy provisions that would deepen the country's reliance on foreign oil. They also rejected two amendments by Rep. Waxman (D-CA), one that would have eliminated a loophole in the fuel economy law and another that simply would have required that the United States not backslide on existing fuel economy standards.

"Today's action by the conference committee will make the United States more dependent on oil from the Persian Gulf," said Dan Lashof, science director of the Climate Center at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "We should be working to become energy independent, not adopting measures that will send billions more money to regimes that harbor those who consider America their sworn enemy."

Both the House and Senate failed to adopt meaningful fuel economy improvements, passing instead provisions that at best would save, by the end of the decade, the equivalent of what the United States currently consumes in six days. Now the conferees are trying to undermine even that paltry goal.

The United States remains dangerously dependent on foreign oil. Consider these facts:

  • U.S. oil imports for the first six months of this year averaged 10.3 million barrels per day, accounting for 53 percent of our total supply.
  • More than 21 percent of total imports came from the Persian Gulf, including more than 600,000 barrels per day from Iraq.
  • Total imports from the Persian Gulf and Iraq were higher during the first six months of 2002 than they were during the same period in 2000.
  • Technology is available to improve the fuel economy of America's cars and trucks by enough to save more oil annually than we imported from Iraq last year.

For more information on U.S. oil dependence, see NRDC's report Dangerous Addiction: Ending America's Oil Dependence.

Reviving the Nuclear Threat

In addition, the energy bill contains a provision that would reverse the decades-old ban on reprocessing nuclear fuel. More than 25 years ago, the Ford administration determined that reprocessing -- separating plutonium from spend nuclear fuel -- presents the unacceptable risk that terrorists or rogue states could use this to develop nuclear weapons. With their huge inventories of radioactive materials, reprocessing plants themselves also present an especially damaging target for terrorist attack.

"Rather than protect Americans, the energy bill endangers national security by creating new sources of weapons-grade nuclear material," said Alys Campaigne, NRDC's legislative director.

Astonishingly, the conferees also rejected Rep. Ed Markey's (D-Mass.) amendment to establish a system to closely monitor nuclear materials shipped within the United States or imported into the country. It also would have directed the administration to conduct a study identifying threats to U.S. commercial nuclear reactors and require a program to ensure the security of power plants and nuclear waste storage facilities. They also defeated another Markey amendment that would have created a blue-ribbon nuclear security task force to determine which radioactive materials should be classified as "sensitive," develop a classification system based on their potential use by terrorists, and establish a national tracking system for this material.

The conferees also voted today to re-authorize the Price Anderson Act, a bill that provides indemnification for nuclear plants in the case of an accident. The Price-Anderson Act protects nuclear power plant owners from the full cost of accidents and limits the protection offered to the public by the federal government in the event of a large accident. This unique form of federal intervention distorts competition in the wholesale electricity market in favor of nuclear power and underscores the inherent uncertainty about the safety and potential magnitude of accidents at nuclear power plants.

"Spending taxpayer money to develop and expand nuclear power plants in the absence of careful, comprehensive scrutiny of the existing risks at nuclear facilities defies logic and commonsense," added Campaigne.

Since this legislation does not expire until 2002, NRDC strongly recommends delaying consideration of Price-Anderson reauthorization until the implications for U.S. nuclear facility vulnerability and liability can be fully evaluated.

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.

Related NRDC Pages
Dangerous Addiction: Ending America's Oil Dependence
F.A.Q.: Energy and National Security