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It's time to wake up and act on oil dependency


Location: Thousand Oaks, CA

Ten years ago I was warning that our dependence on foreign oil had the potential to cripple the American economy.

Today the cost of driving kids to soccer practice, of putting food on the table because of soaring transportation costs and of commuting to school and work is crippling the economies of middle-class Americans.

I've lived in Ventura County for 40 years. My wife, Janice, and I raised four children here, all of whom are now grown, married and have children of their own. They're among those struggling to meet daily expenses as the cost of our dependence on foreign oil has skyrocketed. Like most Ventura County families, they must balance the costs of everyday life with dreams of a three-day weekend in the desert or on the Colorado River, which was an easy reality not too long ago.

For others, even the dream has been overshadowed by day-to-day costs.

When OPEC cut production to force up prices in 2000, President Bill Clinton's then-Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson said, "It is obvious that the federal government was not prepared. We were caught napping."

But instead of using it as a wakeup call, many went back to sleep.

Congress did pass a comprehensive energy bill that was signed into law in 2005—the first comprehensive energy bill passed in about 20 years. But the compromises that had to be made to get it through Congress meant that any meaningful expansion of domestic supply or refinery capacity was taken out first.

Perhaps today's wakeup call, with Republican, Democratic and independent families alike having to prioritize among Girl Scout outings, vacations, getting to and from work and dinner, will finally spur real action.

Weaning ourselves off foreign supplies requires increasing domestic production, at least for the short term. Our infrastructure is based on an oil and gas economy.

While it's possible to change it in the long term, changing it overnight isn't possible.

Congress also needs to pass laws and provide incentives to expand our refinery capabilities.

The last U.S. oil refinery was built in 1976 while overall demand and demand for special blends—such as that required by California—has soared. Ingenuity has expanded what each refinery can produce, but even so, current refineries are running at nearly 100 percent capacity all year, leaving little downtime for maintenance and repair.

At the same time, we must unleash American ingenuity to develop alternative energy. Solar and wind power are two solutions, and Congress needs to extend the tax credit currently applied to producers to encourage more development.

Congress also needs to revise federal regulations on research and development of other energy possibilities, be it solar, water-driven, nuclear, extracting methane from waste disposal sites or methods we haven't even considered yet—and extend tax credits to those industries as well.

I call on my congressional colleagues to wake up and take action now on a plan that increases domestic production, expands refineries and invests in alternatives. Napping is not an option.

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