National Security Network

The Progressive Approach: Energy

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Policy Paper 13 May 2008

Energy Energy

Take Dramatic Action

Energy is a security issue. Oil has passed $100 a barrel, gas is approaching $4 a gallon, and American jobs and well-being are threatened. We need a comprehensive energy strategy to make our country, our livelihoods, and our environment more secure.  We have lost time over the last eight years – and we are more dependent on fossil fuels than ever – but we have the technology to start making changes, we have public calls for action, and we have ready partners in other nations.  The time for dramatic action is now.*
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As long as the U.S. needs massive amounts of fossil fuel imports – oil and gas – to keep our economy humming, we are at the mercy of global markets and a small number of oil-exporting countries that have disproportionate power over us.  Vulnerable energy supply lines and infrastructure give terrorists valuable targets.  Growing global demand pits us against other countries that should be our allies in finding alternative sources of energy.  And the likely consequences of climate change – rising seas, drought, extreme weather – raise serious risks at home, and increase the triggers for conflict and turmoil abroad.

Investing in energy security is one of the smartest things we can do for our own national security, as well as our economic and environmental future.  But there are no quick and easy solutions.  This crisis will take decades to address.  And it will demand the involvement of everyone –government, business, and every citizen – in using the energy we have more efficiently and building an economy that generates energy more wisely and sustainably. The sooner we start, the better off we will be as individuals and as a nation.

Energy security means keeping supplies flowing.  In an increasingly global energy market, a disruption at a single point in the distribution system can have dramatic economic consequences around the world.  Terrorist attacks represent a grave threat – Al Qaeda has indicated that one of its main targets will be the global energy infrastructure.  An attack carried out against oil tankers on the Strait of Hormuz, for example, would interrupt the transit of about one million barrels of oil per day.  Therefore, protecting energy supply lines will be a major global security challenge in this century.

Energy security means protecting ourselves from instability in oil-producing nations by moving away from fossil fuels.  Right now, we are vulnerable to instability in nations such as Saudi Arabia and Nigeria – and we are vulnerable to attempts by nations like Russia, Iran and Venezuela to use our oil dependence as a weapon against us.

In the years to come this problem will only grow.  Economic expansion in China, India and other developing countries may increase demand for oil by as much as 50 percent, while supply will struggle to keep up.

Energy security means taking clear-eyed steps to respond to global warming.  If the earth’s temperature rises, as scientists expect it will, coastal areas in the U.S. and around the world will be threatened, catastrophic storms like Hurricane Katrina will occur more frequently, ecosystems of all kinds will be thrown into flux, and wild climatic swings producing severe heat waves and droughts will become more common.  The effects of climate change will have substantial and potentially dire implications in many of the poorest parts of the world.  Food and resource scarcity could lead to mass migration and conflict.  Ensuring America’s energy security, and taking action to confront the growing dangers of climate change, are among the most significant challenges facing the U.S. in this century. 

Energy security means investing in green technology and green jobs, changing our behavior at home, and working with others overseas to make ourselves safer as individuals and as a nation.

Policy Recommendations

It’s time for a new strategy:  one that sets priorities, matches tools to ends, and takes a comprehensive approach.  One that restores our credibility, serves our interests, and respects our values.  It’s time for a comprehensive energy security strategy that reduces U.S. dependence on foreign oil, protects our energy supplies, invests in green technology and jobs, and builds global partnerships to tackle energy and climate change.  

We must reduce dependence on foreign oil and natural gas. 
A diverse energy policy is a smart national security policy:  oil-rich countries, particularly ones ruled by unstable and corrupt regimes, will have less influence over us.  
•    A better energy policy starts at home, with a goal of producing at least 25 percent of our nation’s transportation fuels from low-carbon alternative fuels, including electricity, by 2025, and investing in new technology to make this happen.  
•    A better energy policy obliges citizens, businesses, and government to use energy more efficiently.
•    A better energy policy is global, and builds partnerships with other countries to research, develop and produce alternative energy and clean technologies.  

We must tackle climate change abroad and at home. 
We can’t tackle climate change alone – and we shouldn’t try.  We need to re-engage in international climate change negotiations, and use our leadership to persuade nations like China and India to do the same.  But our influence abroad depends upon our actions at home – we must begin with serious steps to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions.  We need a national cap on emissions of the gases that cause warming, and a national trading system that uses free market incentives to reduce pollution – like those already in use in northeastern states and the European Union.  Policies like these will clean up our air, encourage investment in new technologies, and create new jobs that will boost our economy – a win for everyone.

We must maximize energy security by coordinating policies with traditional allies and potential partners. 
In order to develop opportunities for strategic cooperation on energy security issues, the U.S. must promote the development of a global, rules-based energy market. The politicization of energy resources – whether made manifest by a supply embargo or unnecessary restrictions on foreign investment – generates higher energy prices and creates competition where there could be cooperation.  Given India and China’s growing demand for energy, it is important that we establish a formal partnership between them and the International Energy Agency (IEA).  This will facilitate information sharing on energy markets and technologies, ensure that oil importing member countries build and maintain strategic reserves, and act as a useful forum for coordinating emergency response.

We must secure our energy supply lines and infrastructure.  We can make ourselves much less vulnerable to terrorist attacks, civil wars, and weather or other disturbances to our energy supplies if we:
•    Work with our friends and allies to strengthen and diversify the networks of pipelines, transmission lines, and terminals that transport oil and gas.
•    Develop a strong international emergency response system to limit price spikes caused by violence or other disruptions.  
•    Invest in energy infrastructure at home:  strategic fuel reserves, modernized supply lines, and a “smart” electrical grid that would make it much more difficult for terrorists, weather, or other events to cause massive power failures.

The Conservative Record

The Bush Administration has been all talk and no action.  Rather than develop a strategy to ensure America’s long-term energy security, the Bush Administration has put forward lofty goals with no strategy or funding to achieve them.  The day after President Bush pledged in his State of the Union Address to “replace more than 75% of oil imports from the Middle East by 2025,” Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman quickly backed away from the pledge, saying it “was purely an example: and should not be taken literally.”  Instead, the U.S. has become more dependent on foreign oil each of the last eight years.  The threat of global climate change has continued to grow, and a great opportunity to create new jobs and move our economy into the 21st century has been squandered.  

Our failed energy policy has made us less safe. 
In a recent bipartisan survey of more than 100 security experts, nearly two-thirds said the Bush Administration’s energy policy makes the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, while some 82% agreed that reducing dependence on foreign oil should be a higher priority (Center for American Progress).

The threat posed by climate change is growing, yet the Bush Administration continues to block domestic and international efforts to fight it.  The potential catastrophic effects of climate change are readily apparent.  Hurricanes, for instance, feed off the energy in warming waters, and scientists have linked a rise in hurricane intensity to global warming.  Nevertheless, the U.S. remains the largest contributor to the climate change problem, rather than becoming a leader in finding a solution.

The Bush Administration has ignored fuel for cars and airplanes.
  Two-thirds of our nation’s oil is consumed as transportation fuels, yet the Bush Administration has not supported initiatives to significantly increase automobile fuel efficiency.  The average mileage for a 2004 vehicle is 6% lower than the 1987-88 average.  

A golden opportunity for American innovation and job creation is being squandered.
  The failure to support research and development is undercutting American firms that should be taking advantage of global opportunities for new energy technologies, while creating high-paying jobs at home.  Countries like Germany and Denmark – with China close behind – are taking over green technology markets that the U.S. pioneered.

We are more vulnerable to weather and terrorists because this Administration failed to modernize our energy infrastructure and diversify distribution channels.  The August 2003 blackouts served as a stark reminder of how vulnerable and antiquated our energy infrastructure is, yet no steps have been taken to modernize it.  Also, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita exposed the risk of storing all our strategic petroleum reserves in the Gulf Coast area, but no steps have been taken to diversify away from this region.

* This report drew from the National Security Task Force on Energy, which released a report titled "Energy Security in the 21st Century" in July 2006. The report is available at