The New Energy Realists

The New Energy Realists

by Author(s): Richard G. Lugar

Secretary Schlesinger spoke forthrightly when he noted that "the transition away from conventional oil as the principal source of energy for raising the living standards of the world's population . . . will be the greatest challenge this country and the world will face. . . . The longer we delay, the greater will be the subsequent trauma." But the difficulty of solving the problem does not make it any less necessary. President Bush understands this, as he indicated with his surprising declaration in his 2006 State of the Union address, "We are addicted to oil."

To start, we must end oil's near monopoly on the transportation sector, which accounts for 68 percent of American oil consumption. I believe that biofuels, combined with hybrid and other technologies, can begin to move us away from our extreme dependence on oil in the next decade. Corn-based ethanol is already providing many Midwesterners with a lower-cost fuel option. Cellulosic ethanol, which is made of more plentiful and less expensive biomass, is poised for commercial take-off. Ethanol can be easily introduced into the current transportation infrastructure through E-85, a blend of gasoline (15 percent) and ethanol (85 percent), in combination with flexible-fuel vehicles, which use inexpensive, off-the-shelf technology to burn both regular gasoline and E-85. We must quickly boost both supply and demand for ethanol through incentives and mandates to increase the number of ethanol production plants, gas stations that sell E-85 and cars that can use it.

While we begin the transition at home, we should also reinvigorate and expand our energy partnerships abroad. I have introduced framework legislation that calls for a realignment of our diplomatic priorities to meet energy security challenges. Partnerships with foreign governments can help speed our conversion to real energy security and strike new global alliances. For instance, we can gain greater security from oil-supply disruptions if we develop contingency plans in advance with India and China in conjunction with the developed countries that are members of the International Energy Agency. Many poorer states currently have no strategic petroleum reserves or other mechanisms for coping with a major supply disruption. If the United States and other developed countries work with these nations on emergency-preparedness measures, we can reduce the risk of economic devastation and conflict among poor nations that might result from an energy-supply shock.

We also must recognize that we live in an energy interdependent world, and America's efforts to lessen its own petroleum use will not have their maximum potential geopolitical impact if other countries simply consume the oil we save, keeping markets tight, prices high and the producers in control. It is by working with other major consumers, such as India and China, to develop sustainable alternative energy supplies that we can best improve our own energy security. At the same time, we must be realistic and acknowledge that oil will remain an important energy source. Therefore, it is in our interest to work with the oil-producing countries toward better investment climates, greater political stability, improved environmental controls and other measures that will enhance the security of supplies.

At the coming G-8 meeting, energy will be at the top of the agenda. This will be an important forum where the United States can take the lead and explain to other nations that we are in a new energy era. The solutions to the problems faced by all countries--developed and developing--will come not from the traditional means of more drilling and more pipelines, but from major strides in efficiency and from alternative, sustainable energy options. In this commonality of interests there is cause for optimism. Despite our import dependence today, the United States is in a strong position to choose a different path, a path toward real energy security. These are problems that can be solved. We must act now. We must act together.

The Honorable Richard G. Lugar, a Republican Senator from Indiana, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Essay Types: Essay