With the election behind us and America celebrating Veterans Day, this may be an ideal time to reflect on longer-term decisions that will dramatically affect the demands on America’s next generation of warfighters. Energy security should be at the top of that list.
Yet, over the course of this election season, the topic of energy security received scant attention, in part because gasoline prices haven’t yet returned to painful levels. However, as we look over the horizon at 2017 and beyond, it’s clear that energy will continue to shape conflicts abroad and provide hostile regimes with alarming leverage over the U.S. economy.
The United States imported 9.4 million barrels per day of petroleum last year, of which about 31 percent came from Saudi Arabia, Iran and other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. More important, official projections show that oil imports in 2016 and 2017 are on the rise, despite widespread fracking, with the biggest surge in imports coming from Nigeria, Iraq and other members of OPEC. This August alone, American consumers paid more than $10 billion for foreign oil, including nearly $4.4 billion sent to OPEC members that hold little regard for American interests overseas.
This is exactly what OPEC had in mind when it temporarily flooded markets with cheap oil. American oil workers have lost their jobs in droves — 99,000 in Texas alone — and shortfalls in capital investment and labor make it unlikely that U.S. firms could quickly bring production back online. In contrast, federal analysts recently reported that Russian firms are ramping up investments in new oil and gas fields that “have recently started up or are due to start in the near future.” They are accepting the lost revenue now in the expectation that high oil prices aren’t far off.
Driving up global energy costs was OPEC’s goal when it announced plans in September to curb oil supplies. “OPEC went back to its historic role of controlling markets,” declared Algeria’s oil minister, Noureddine Bouterfa.
Of course, tycoons have been making and losing fortunes to Big Oil’s boom and bust cycle for more than a century, but we should demand more foresight from our lawmakers. Leaders in Washington cannot allow market manipulation to push them off course when it comes to breaking our addiction to oil.
Yet that appears to be exactly what’s happening in some corners of the U.S. Capitol, where fossil-fuel advocates are working overtime to weaken the Renewable Fuel Standard. The 11-year-old policy requires refiners to offer consumers fuel options that contain a growing share of homegrown, renewable biofuels.
In 2015 alone, biofuels such as ethanol displaced 527 million barrels of oil. To date, the RFS has been America’s single most successful energy program, saving consumers as much as 50 cents to $1.50 per gallon on fuel during the last oil price spike and supporting hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs.
Biofuels are also cleaner, reducing carbon emissions by an average 34 percent in the case of corn-based ethanol and 100 percent or more in the case of cellulosic varieties, according to Department of Energy-sponsored research. For those who recognize climate change as a threat to global stability, biofuels are not only a source of domestic energy security, they contribute to a more balanced geopolitical environment.
Yet despite these advantages, some lawmakers see no reason to continue investing in homegrown energy. Some have even proposed legislation that would limit biofuels to 9.7 percent of the U.S. motor fuel supply — below current levels —effectively halting investment in the next generation of renewable energy by U.S. companies.
Fortunately, not all policymakers share this stunning lack of foresight. Leaders in the U.S. Navy, for example, this year deployed the Great Green Fleet, a carrier strike group powered by biofuels. It represents the latest efforts to keep our warfighters moving, even if gasoline supplies become unreliable.
This progress is further strengthened by market forces, driven by growing consumer demand for fuel blended with 15 percent ethanol, known as E15, in lieu of the 10 percent blend that is standard across the country. In markets where the option is available, drivers are enjoying lower-cost, lower-emission transportation fueled by the same high-octane blend employed by NASCAR drivers.
As a result, biofuels are now blended into 97 percent of all motor fuel. It’s a remarkable achievement, and if that growth continues it will represent a tremendous victory for U.S. security. But if advocates of the status quo have their way, and we roll back progress on the RFS, it will almost certainly mean a more daunting task ahead for those charged with protecting our nation’s interests at home and abroad.