One Year Later - Bush Deja Vu "Again" On Oil

We all remember the headlines that came out of last year’s State of the Union address: America is addicted to oil. It’s been a year and the federal government has made little progress in ending our “oil addiction.” But is there even anything the government or the President can do about it? Karen Wayland of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute debated the issue on “Morning Call.”

President Bush is expected to discuss America’s oil dependence tonight during his sixth State of the Union address. Ebell worries that Bush is trying to resurrect some of the failed energy policies of the 1970’s. How can our economy have a competitive edge when we’re paying more for our energy, he asks. Ebell also says America’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil is a double-edged sword. Oil-rich Middle Eastern countries are “as beholden to us as we are to them,” and would simply collapse without our economic support, further destabilizing the region.

As for energy efficiency, Wayland says there is a myriad of policies the President could put in place that he has failed to enact. He could increase miles per gallon standards in automobiles and enforce the appliance efficiency standards that the Department of Energy is required to keep. These are just a couple of examples of enactment's that would save consumers money at the gas pump and on their electricity bills, Wayland says. She points to refrigerators as an example of an appliance that was once costly and very energy-inefficient, but thanks to energy standards and ingenuity is now a product that is relatively cheap and very efficient for consumers.

But Ebell says likening cars to refrigerators is illogical and efficiency acts would hardly do anything to alleviate our overall energy problems. He believes there is no short-term answer to America’s oil addiction. Increasing gas mileage would be counterproductive, as it wouldn’t save all that much gas – and it would also raise the cost of automobiles, he says. So if a family originally wanted to buy an expensive S.U.V. that fit their needs and was safer, instead they might have to opt for a smaller, less safe vehicle that was cheaper.

People don’t die from having to buy an energy-efficient refrigerator; they do die in car accidents from having to buy smaller and lighter cars than they would otherwise be able to afford, Ebell says.

But Wayland disagrees. She says that while oil and electricity are obviously very different resources, the efficiency policies that have been used with electricity can easily be applied to reduce our dependence on oil. Efficiency is the “low hanging fruit” in this country’s energy policy that President Bush has not taken advantage of, she says.

FYI: The U.S. currently uses over 20 million barrels of oil per day.