What are some of the U.S. strategies for coping with the real and hidden costs of its reliance on foreign oil? One possible solution that has been proposed by U.S. legislators from time to time is to establish a tax on energy imports as a way to stimulate domestic production and conservation. However, such a tax has never been implemented. Ronald Reagan, U.S. president from 1981 to 1989, refused to implement taxes on energy imports even when pressured to do so. The Reagan administration also sharply cut funding for federal energy programs, particularly alternative energy research and development (another proposed solution to the problem).
In 1991 the U.S. president George H. W. Bush unveiled an energy policy that promised to scale down foreign oil dependence by increasing domestic oil production, producing oil from environmentally sensitive areas in the
United States, and encouraging domestic pipeline construction. Of course, these proposals met with opposition from environmentalists and renewable energy supporters.
In more recent times, the U.S. president George W. Bush has promoted the diversification of oil import sources and included provisions to facilitate this in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. But critics have said that diversification of oil imports does nothing to minimize the severe trade deficit caused by foreign oil imports.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 also contained another measure designed to address the issue of U.S. foreign oil dependence: the Set America Free Act of 2005, which calls for the creation of a "United States Commission on North American Energy Freedom" to study the particulars of U.S. foreign oil dependence and to "make recommendations for a coordinated, comprehensive, and long-range national policy to achieve North American energy freedom by 2025."38
Elements of the president's Advanced Energy Initiative, announced in his January 31, 2005, State of the Union address, were also intended to manage the U.S. foreign oil dependence issue. In the January 31 speech, Bush promised alternative energy breakthroughs and investments in new technologies that would help the nation "replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."39 A centerpiece of the president's new strategy was ethanol. In 2006 ethanol that was derived from corn, which currently accounts for only a tiny fraction of fuel supply in the United States, required U.S. subsidies for its production. The Advanced Energy Initiative contained plans to subsidize ethanol production even further. This was also a matter of contention in the United States, as critics said that the amount of land and water and level of energy required to produce ethanol make it useful as only an add-on fuel to complement primary, nonrenewable oil. Others suggest that the significant amount of traditional fuels expended in the growing, processing, conversion, and transportation of biomass fuels, including ethanol, greatly reduces their value as alternatives to oil.
Aside from promising to boost government spending on the production and development of ethanol fuels, the Advanced Energy Initiative stressed the development of new or renewable sources of energy as a way to scale back consumption of fossil fuels, especially in its section "Changing the Way We Fuel Our Vehicles."40 Commentators have said that the Advanced Energy Initiative's emphasis on renewable energies betrays a misconception that renewable sources of energy are more consistent and efficient than they really are. These critics highlight the fact that many renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar sources, provide energy only intermittently, are unequally disbursed in supply across the country, require enormous space for production, and still require the support of traditional energy sources in their manufacture and transport. In addition, some industry analysts have suggested that the United States needs to expand its pursuit of "alternative energies" beyond renewable energies such as wind, solar, and biomass. They point to new possibilities for carbon sequestration, a method of capturing the carbon content of fuels like coal and enabling it to be taken up and stored by soil, oceans, or forests. Energy experts also raise the possibility of using more nuclear fission or hydrogen energy technologies.41
Other industry analysts also lament that many of the measures put forth as "U.S. energy policy" usually amount to nothing more than proposals that never translate into real action. The truth of the matter is that oil consumption and oil imports continue to increase in the United States, despite developments in U.S. energy policy. Many U.S. citizens, politicians, researchers, and economists are very concerned that the United States will become even more "addicted to oil," and even more dependent on getting it from unstable parts of the world. Some even contend that until the United States builds an energy infrastructure that allows it to become entirely self-sufficient, dependency on foreign oil will always be a threat to national security, economic stability, and peaceful foreign relations.
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