Statement On Energy

Statement On Energy

The American Jewish Committee has long believed that the development of a comprehensive U.S. energy program is essential to the economic and social well-being of our country, our national security and the continuance of our broad role in world affairs. Twenty-five years ago, prompted by the then-recent Arab oil embargo, AJC first adopted a policy statement on energy. Over the succeeding years, as the nation coped with an energy supply shock that ensued from the 1979 collapse of the Shah's regime in Iran and concerns about the environment, safety, and tanker dependency raised by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, AJC adopted and acted on several additional statements on energy policy. Overall, these statements reflected the agency's concern that our nation address its increasing dependence on imported oil, and the impact of that dependency on our economic health, and strategic and social stability, in a fashion consistent with protection of the environment and attention to the impact of policy changes on the disadvantaged.

Throughout the past twenty-five years, national considerations of energy policy have focused primarily on U.S. vulnerability to steep prices and supply fluctuations, and the resulting economic burdens. However, the recent terrorist attacks against the U.S. underscored another crucial consideration, that our national security and our position as the leader of the free world are seriously undermined by America's dependence on foreign nations, many unfriendly or potentially unstable, for a primary energy supply. Thus, just as this nation is taking extensive actions at home and abroad to protect the safety of our citizens, it is imperative that we take the steps necessary to enhance our national energy security. Moreover, as we have experienced in the past, energy prices may decrease for periods of time, and with such fluctuations, Americans may become less sensitive to the need for this type of policy. Nevertheless, history demonstrates that, even when faced with public indifference, the country must, for the sake of our nation's security and stability, forge ahead in pursuit of energy independence.

In addition, a quarter-century after AJC's first energy policy statement, the need to limit dependence on foreign energy sources, both by assuring safe and stable energy sources and through renewed attention to issues of conservation and efficiency, remains no less critical to AJC's mission to safeguard the welfare and security of people in the United States and throughout the world. We therefore make this statement today to modify and expand upon, with even greater urgency, the energy policy statements previously adopted by the American Jewish Committee.

Our dependence on oil is of particular concern. While the U.S. comprises approximately 5 percent of the world's population, it consumes approximately 25 percent of the world's oil.1 Nationwide, 2/3 of all oil consumed is for transportation and most of that for automobiles, trucks and other vehicles.2 A drop in domestic oil production, coupled with increased consumption, has created a scenario by which the U.S. is more reliant on foreign oil sources than ever before. In 1973, the U.S. was approximately 28 percent reliant on imported oil.3 Currently, the U.S. is approximately 58 percent reliant on foreign sources for oil.4 If this trend continues, the U.S. will become even more reliant on oil from countries that have not traditionally been friendly to American strategic interests and that have the potential to disrupt oil supplies worldwide, thereby adversely affecting the world and U.S. economies with resulting lost jobs, a decreased quality of living, and harsher conditions for low-income families. In addition, Japan and Western Europe are even more reliant on imported oil than the U.S.5 Therefore, a disruption of supply from, for example, the Persian Gulf could have an even more severe impact on the U.S. and worldwide economy than in the past.

Moreover, U.S. dependence on foreign oil is projected to increase as the U.S. depletes its 2.8 percent share of the world's proven oil reserves.7 In contrast, the Middle East has at least 67 percent of the world's proven oil reserves.6 At present, an estimated 51 percent of U.S. oil imports come from member nations of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and 27 percent from the Persian Gulf members of OPEC.8 Inevitably, if the U.S. continues to increase its reliance on foreign sources of oil, our dependence on OPEC member nations and rogue states (overlapping categories that include the nations with the largest share of the world's proven oil reserves) will increase. In addition, U.S. dependence on foreign fossil fuels has led to coalitions with nations that are fomenters of terrorism and/or that lack democratic values and operate with few environmental constraints.

By scaling back dependence on imported oil, the U.S. will both strengthen our national security and also enhance America's ability to attend to human rights and environmental concerns. Furthermore, by reducing dependence on foreign sources of fossil fuels, there is potential for the United States to reduce greatly military expenditures now allocated for the protection of oil fields, pipelines, oil shipping routes, and refineries throughout the world. It is estimated that America currently spends $56 billion per year on imported oil itself, but spends another $25 billion on the military defense of oil supplies, shipping routes and pipelines.9 These energy sources and supply routes provide numerous targets that hold great potential for damage, and are therefore vulnerable to attack by terrorists, pirates and other groups, and leave the U.S. susceptible to price manipulation and embargo.

Overall, the foregoing trends present a grave danger that the U.S. will become increasingly susceptible to pressure from oil producing nations and vulnerable to terrorist attacks, further jeopardizing this nation's security and ability to remain an independent actor on the world stage. Additionally, supply disruptions would adversely impact economic growth, the environment, and the economically disadvantaged, who may not be able to afford higher energy prices. With these and other matters in mind, we believe that U.S. energy policy, or the lack of a well-considered one, will have a crucial impact on our country's strategic and social stability, as well as economic growth in the years ahead. Energy decisions will help determine whether we have an expanding or contracting economy. These choices will affect employment levels; cost, quantity, and quality of housing, food, and clothing; and the established lifestyles of whole regions of the country. Moreover, societal dislocations caused by energy shortfalls could well exacerbate group tensions in this country. Perhaps most importantly, and as noted at the outset, America's dependence on foreign nations for its primary energy supply threatens this nation's national security and position as leader of the free world.

The American Jewish Committee, therefore, urges that the United States set as a primary national goal a comprehensive energy policy aimed at a substantial reduction in U.S. dependence on imported oil, with the potential for energy flexibility and near independence in the longer term. Such a policy should encompass vast increases in vehicle fuel efficiency, a reduction in wasteful energy consumption, increases in domestic supplies with appropriate attention to environmental safeguards, further diversification of foreign oil sources, development and commercialization of alternative sources of energy, and strategies for coping with supply cutoffs. This program, which should be pursued with an urgency and a commitment of resources comparable to that of the Manhattan Project and NASA's intensive program to land a man on the moon, requires a partnership between government and the private sector working together and separately as appropriate.

The American Jewish Committee urges that the following steps be taken in furtherance of this agenda. These recommendations are not set forth in order of priority. While some items may be more urgent than others, all are essential to an effective and integrated U.S. energy policy.

  1. Expansion of efforts to efficiently use and conserve energy
    Conservation and increased efficiency represent the most immediate and implementable means of reducing energy dependence. Conservation and efficiencies in energy use must be achieved even at the expense of limited increases in the short-term cost of living and personal comfort. Federal commitment is essential- through mandates and requirements, as well as through encouragement and incentives - and public apathy must be overcome in order to reduce overall energy consumption. These efforts must include swift adoption of significant, tough and more consistent corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) and appliance efficiency standards, exploration of mass transit options, tax policy, and subsidies, all of which are energy dependency reducing methods that AJC has long supported. Unfortunately, most Americans are not conserving energy at home, on the highways, in their leisure activities or in the workplace. Industry has demonstrated that energy conservation and increased efficiency can often save money and increase profits. Industry must be encouraged and, in some instances required, to produce more energy-efficient automobiles, trucks, heavy equipment and appliances, and industry and consumers alike must accept conservation measures which may not be economically advantageous or may necessitate lifestyle changes. Such measures may also counteract alarming trends toward global warming and other forms of environmental degradation.

  2. Expansion of domestic energy resources
    Government and industry must intensify their efforts to expand development and utilization of domestic energy resources, including oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear, even though cost per unit may rise in the short term. Such programs must incorporate stringent environmental and other safeguards, but they must also be propelled by an understanding of the serious security, economic and political hazards of dependence on foreign energy sources.

  3. Development and commercialization of alternative energy sources
    Government and industry must undertake much more intense research and development programs on the various alternative energy sources, especially for vehicles, such as fuel cells, hybrid cars, synthetic fuels, biomass, solar, wind and any others that give promise of technical and commercial feasibility in the middle and long term. Government and industry should also create and support - through demonstration projects and other incentive programs - the widespread use and commercialization of viable alternative sources.

  4. Modernized and Expanded Energy Infrastructure
    One outgrowth of the absence of a national energy policy has been the failure in recent years to maintain an infrastructure adequate to move energy to the locations where it is needed most. The nation's energy infrastructure should be modernized and expanded in order to make domestic and foreign energy resources available where they are needed most. The federal government and industry must take steps to improve the reliability of the interstate transmission system (including continuing research and development on transmission reliability and superconductivity), remove constraints on the interstate transmission grid, improve pipeline safety, and provide for timely consideration and approval of additional transmission lines and pipelines that are consistent with sound environmental principles. As part of the effort to improve our nation's ability to provide and deliver energy supplies to consumers, and in light of recent difficulties in California and elsewhere, state governments must examine (without any prejudgment on our part as to the results of such reexamination) the advisability of deregulation of the electric power market at the generating and distribution levels.

  5. Maintenance of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as protection against foreign price and supply manipulation
    In light of the ever-present danger of manipulation of the price and supply of oil by foreign actors, it is essential that the U.S. oil reserve be maintained so as to protect our nation from an actual or threatened disruption in oil supplies. The national commitment to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve program must continue, and be expanded beyond its present maximum levels. There must also be a willingness to use the Reserve when needed.

  6. Diversification of foreign oil sources
    To reduce U.S. strategic vulnerability stemming from dependence on nations that are potentially unreliable sources of oil, as exemplified by past attempts to manipulate and fix prices worldwide and in the U.S., AJC encourages the continued exploration and development of alternative sources of foreign oil around the world, with stringent environmental safeguards.

  7. International cooperation
    Because of the economic and political interdependence of the nations of the world, an effective U.S. energy policy must involve cooperative international efforts and strategies with both other industrialized nations and with non-oil-exporting countries in the developing world.

  8. Energy costs for the poor
    AJC is sensitive to the negative impact that certain energy policies may have on the economically disadvantaged, and supports programs to provide energy aid to low-income households to help them meet their energy needs.

  9. Increasing public awareness
    The American public must be educated to the need to face our energy crisis and its foreign policy and national security implications, the urgency of conserving and expanding our national energy resources and about the critical energy decisions to be made in the months and years ahead. This effort requires the commitment of organizations such as the American Jewish Committee and other civic and religious groups, in coordination with government, industry, universities, and research groups, working to further such education among their own constituencies and pressing their federal, state and local officials for urgently needed action towards our stated goals.
Date: 2/8/2002
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