Des Moines Register - Let's Take Steps to Become Less Dependent on Oil

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: Sept. 28, 2006
Location: Des Moines, IA

Des Moines Register - Let's Take Steps to Become Less Dependent on Oil

Let's Take Steps to Become Less Dependent on Oil

By Joseph R. Biden Jr. August 8, 2006

As mad as Americans are at $3 a gallon gas, we should be equally angry that our widespread dependence on oil is hurting our ability to make America secure.

This week, I'll be visiting Iowa, outlining four steps we can take now that would make America less vulnerable, while helping rural America prosper. Thirty-five percent of our imported oil comes from unstable nations: Venezuela, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Some of the dollars we spend on crude wind up in the pockets of terrorists and radicals.

Our dependence limits our leverage around the world. Oil-rich countries like Iran can stand up to us, pursuing policies that defy the entire international community; yet oil-dependent allies may be afraid to stand with us to confront Iran because they need its oil.

While we did not enter Iraq because of oil, we have lost thousands of American lives, and spent billions of dollars to avoid leaving behind a civil war that could turn into a regional war that is in part about oil.

The only way to regain control of our national security is to put in place a domestic energy policy that buys fuel from Midwest farmers, instead of Mideast oligarchs. We can make the biggest difference and have the most immediate impact by reducing oil consumption where we use it most: the transportation sector. I am proposing four steps we can take immediately to transition to alternative fuel and make us more secure:

First, 100 percent of all new cars sold in America should be able to run on alternative fuel. We should require auto manufacturers to increase production of flexible fuel vehicles by 10 percent each year - so that in two years twenty percent (and in five years half) of all new cars would be able to run on E85 and regular gas. Let's understand that famous expression from a popular movie - build it and they will come. The era of building American alternative cars is beginning. Our fields of dreams are full of corn and switch grass. Automakers don't need to redesign cars to make this happen. Five million American cars and trucks can already run on E85 and gas. It costs manufacturers less than $100.

Second, 50 percent of all gas stations operated by major companies should have alternative fuel pumps. I want people across America able to pull into the corner gas station, in their own neighborhoods, and find the fuel of their choice. Today that is possible in just 700 stations, but under my plan, 42,000 stations would offer a selection of fuels - about a quarter of the stations in the country.

Third, 25 percent of the fuel we consume should be grown by American farmers by 2020, not bought on a rigged international market. Our farmers now produce about 3 percent. That means increasing the use of corn ethanol today and speeding development of cellulosic ethanol tomorrow made from plentiful sources like alfalfa, prairie grass, and wood chips. Skeptics will tell you we don't have enough land to support ethanol production; or they'll argue production costs are too high, and it takes too much energy to produce it. That's malarkey. Every time we have asked Iowa farmers to produce more, they've risen to the occasion. They will again.

Fourth, we need to increase the efficiency of our cars and trucks. We haven't raised the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard (CAFE), which regulates fuel efficiency of new cars, in 20 years, not since Ronald Reagan was President.

Recently, I, along with Senator Harkin and five other senators, introduced legislation to up the standards by about one mile per gallon each year. We break the stalemate over setting new standards by doing away with the old CAFÉ system and replacing it with a new, commonsense system that set targets based on individual vehicle size and weight.

Burning less gas is not only smart, I'm convinced it would help protect American auto workers, who lose jobs when the price of gas goes up. Today, in Japan, their fleets average 45 miles per gallon, and it's headed higher. China is increasing its standards to 37 miles. Ours is stuck at 27.5 miles.

I'm not suggesting these are the only changes we need. We'll need to increase conservation and have all options for electrical generation on the table.

But these steps -- 100 percent of cars running on alternative fuels, 50 percent of major gas stations selling it, at least 25 percent of what we consume being farm-grown fuel, and getting cars one mile per gallon more efficient every year - would profoundly impact the ability of a President to look out for America's security.

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