Oil prices are moving again toward historic highs amid grim news out of petroleum-rich regions from the Niger Delta to the Persian Gulf. Americans have heard all this before, but there are signs of deepening unease about the United States' dependence on oil from shaky or despotic places. A new Public Agenda Confidence in Foreign Policy Index shows that more than half of the Americans surveyed are very worried about problems abroad disrupting oil supplies. Only the war in Iraq was of comparable concern to those interviewed. The survey was made prior to President Bush's much-noted "addiction to oil" warning in his January State of the Union speech and his call for new measures to end U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil by increasing funding for clean-energy research.
The administration issued a new set of corporate average fuel economy standards for light trucks on March 29 that Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta called the most ambitious ever. But critics have said the plan is too modest and have faulted the administration for failing to see the urgent national security aspects of its energy policy. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar (R-IN), pointing to a decline in U.S. influence around the world, says energy is "the albatross of U.S. national security." Lugar introduced legislation last month calling for U.S. energy partnerships with China and India to reduce the potential for conflict with two of the world's fastest growing economies and energy users. Energy expert Daniel Yergin, writing recently in Foreign Affairs, says there is also a need for cooperation on protecting the world's immense energy infrastructure. In the United States alone, he writes, there are more than 160,000 miles of oil pipelines. The country's increased reliance on liquefied natural gas raises a new set of security concerns, as explained in this CFR Background Q&A.
A number of experts have urged a shift in U.S. climate change policy in tandem with a new energy plan. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), in an April 3 speech, criticized the administration's failure to go beyond encouraging voluntary efforts by industry to curb emissions of fossil fuels. Obama said the government should use tax breaks and loan guarantees to stimulate greater use of environmentally friendly energy sources. A 2004 CFR policy initiative, written by Adjunct Senior Fellow David Victor, offers several options the government could pursue, including the creation of a global system of emissions trading that would build markets for low-emission technologies. Such a system would succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which Washington refuses to sign because of the economic burdens it would impose in the United States, the world's largest producer of so-called greenhouse gases.
The issue is resonating in Congress, where the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is holding a climate change conference April 4, in which twenty-nine experts will testify on whether a mandatory climate change plan is needed. In the hopes of remaining competitive internationally, a small segment of U.S. industry has already committed to an emissions-trading plan, by joining the Chicago Climate Exchange. State governments have begun to initiate their own standards on emissions: The American Council for Energy Efficient Economy says ten states since 2004 have also established energy-saving standards for up to thirty products, and Congress has made some of those standards federal law.