March 02, 2011

Our Achilles Heel, Again Exposed

It's a familiar sight.  Over the past few weeks, we've seen gas prices shooting up at the pumps.

Due in large part to the uprisings across the Middle East, oil prices recently topped out at more than $100 a barrel, and if the security situation worsens, prices could rise significantly more.

And while one eye watches oil prices, the other sees events continue to unfold in the Middle East and Northern Africa.  First, the fall of the Tunisian government and the resignation of Egyptian President Mubarak, then unrest in Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and beyond. The United States has rightly championed the freedom of expression in affected nations and denounced the violent and oppressive reactions of regimes like that of Qaddafi in Libya.

Despite our distance, we can clearly feel the vibrations from uprisings on the other side of the world.  They have once again exposed our country's Achilles heel -- an addiction to foreign oil.

If gas prices continue to rise, they could cripple our economy, which is still struggling to recover from the recession. And while we should be growing clean energy jobs here at home, we continue to spend more than $1 billion every day on imported oil. Some of these petro-dollars fuel America's enemies.  As former CIA Director James Woolsey has said, our addiction to foreign oil means we are in effect funding both sides of the current conflicts in the Middle East.

More than ever, I think the message is clear: we must stop relying on hostile or unstable nations for our energy sources and spur the development of sources at home.

We must invest in domestic alternatives to imported oil like natural gas-powered trucks, electric vehicles, and next generation biofuels like the algae cultivated near Columbus, NM.  We must also focus on improving public transportation, better urban planning, and continued vehicle fuel economy improvements.

Oil Independence Roadmap
Chart from Merkley-Udall Act plan, prepared by Sen. Merkley's office


Last year, I worked on the Oil Independence Act with Sen. Merkley of Oregon. That legislation would have combined these policies to eliminate our dependence on oil from the Middle East within 20 years.

Right now in Washington there's a debate on how to control spending. Truth is, too much of our nation's spending is controlled by the price of foreign oil -- $475 billion in 2008 alone. We need to take control of our future and the clear path is investment in clean energy technologies and infrastructure.

Photo by Ryan Lackey via Flickr.