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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Oil & National Security

Air Date: Week of

The White House recently received a letter asking for increased spending on alternative fuels in order to cut down on foreign oil dependence. The letter wasn't from environmentalists, but from former national security officials who see energy policy as a security issue. Living on Earth's Jeff Young reports.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

A letter recently arrived at the White House urging President Bush to cut the country's consumption of oil. The writers say the U.S. must increase its investments in conservation, alternative fuels and fuel-efficient cars. Sounds like another plea from an environmental group—until you get to the list of signatories.

They are some three dozen leaders in the field of national security, including a former director of the CIA, a former national security advisor and top brass from the defense departments of previous Republican and Democratic administrations. Living on Earth's Jeff Young explains why heavy hitters in the defense world are joining the green chorus for conservation.

YOUNG: Ronald Reagan's face beams down from a large poster at the entrance to Frank Gaffney's Washington office. Back when Gaffney was an undersecretary of defense, Reagan was his boss and he still champions the late president's ideals at the conservative think tank, Center for Security Policy. Now, Gaffney finds himself in agreement with people Reagan had little use for: environmentalists.

GAFFNEY: Well, I've had my disagreements with people in the environmental movement for a long time. I think, like many, I had not fully appreciated how urgent was the need to adopt these sorts of existing technologies in light of national security realities of the day.

YOUNG: The "existing technologies" Gaffney mentions are alternative fuels and more fuel-efficient cars. He and 30 others in the national security field asked President Bush to invest a billion dollars in those efforts to wean the country from imported oil. They see a very real chance of a terror attack disrupting oil supplies, perhaps by as much as a third of U.S. daily use.

GAFFNEY: If we were to take six million barrels off of the oil market at one fell swoop, you would have very serious economic repercussions. And the nature of our economy, as well as our ability to use oil to project power around the world—which we have to do—would be impaired. I think there's no getting around it.

YOUNG: Foreign oil has been a concern for defense hawks at least since the OPEC embargo and gas lines of the 70s. President Bush made the connection at an event on the White House lawn three years ago.

BUSH: And, this dependence on foreign oil is a matter of national security. To put it bluntly, sometimes we rely upon energy sources from countries that don't particularly like us.

YOUNG: What's new, Gaffney says, is the sense of urgency.

GAFFNEY: I believe there is a national security emergency, certainly in prospect if not already here. It's now something we have to do something about right away in order to translate that rhetoric into reality.

YOUNG: Environmental groups say it's about time. David Hamilton directs the Sierra Club's energy program. He says he's happy to have national security types make the same argument he's made for years.

HAMILTON: I think that a lot of people were hesitant to criticize administration policy before the election, you know, especially Republicans who did not want to appear disloyal or trying to undermine the president. I think you have more of a willingness and a comfort with calling the administration's policies on energy into question.

YOUNG: The national security experts do not explicitly criticize the president. Their letter says supply alone cannot eliminate the need for imports and that equal attention must be paid to reducing oil demand. That would seem at odds with the administration's focus on increasing domestic supply. But the Department of Energy's new deputy secretary, Clay Sell, doesn't see it that way.

SELL: I think the administration has somewhat unfairly been painted as one that wanted to only address this issue through production and nothing could be further from the truth. What they have recommended is a significant endorsement of the president's policies. In fact, I don't think there's anything in here that we necessarily depart on.

YOUNG: Sell says the answer lies in the president's comprehensive energy bill, a controversial item Congress has turned down for four years but will take up again this year. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Young in Washington.



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