Thursday, February 28, 2008
By Steven Milloy
All the presidential candidates say they’re for energy
independence. So why didn’t they do something about it when they had the chance?
Hillary Clinton rails on her web site about Americans sending “billion of dollars to the Middle East for their
oil.” Barack Obama warns that Middle East oil is the “lifeline of Al Qaeda.” Republican hopeful John McCain
says that, if elected, his energy policy will “amount to a declaration of independence from our reliance on oil
sheiks and our vulnerability to their troubled politics.”
But Clinton and Obama recently voted for a bill that can only promote dependency on oil from the Middle
East . And John McCain, went AWOL, not voting on the bill at all.
A little-noticed provision of the ironically-named “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007” that was
passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush last December bars the federal government from purchasing
fuels whose lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are greater than those from fuels produced from convention
Before we get into the energy independence implications of this provision, it’s worth appreciating the obscurity
of the provision and the fact that the media doesn’t seem to understand its import.
I only learned of the provision while thumbing through the Feb. 15 Financial Times, serendipitously noticing the
egregiously mis-titled article, “US risks trade dispute with Canada on fuel.” A bit of research turned up no
other media reports relating to this particular section of the bill.
The Financial Times article reported on how section 526 of the energy bill prohibits the federal government
from buying oil that was produced from Canadian tar sands -- a reserve that holds about two-thirds the amount of
recoverable oil as compared to reserves in Saudi Arabia.
Because it takes greenhouse gas-producing energy to extract oil
from the tar sands, the article focused on the fact that the law could affect billions of dollars of trade in oil,
particularly since the U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s largest single buyer of light refined
But while I give the Financial Times credit for reporting this story, it really dropped the ball with
respect to understanding it -- this is yet another effort by environmentalists and their congressional henchmen to
cause chaos in our energy supply.
Sure enough, it turns out that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) are already pressing the
Department of Defense to comply with the provision. In a recent letter to the Secretary of Defense, Waxman and
Davis asked how the DOD will ensure that the fuel it buys doesn’t come from Canadian tar sands or from domestic
Waxman and Davis apparently expect the military to expend the Herculean effort of tracing the source of the fuel
it purchases and then to refuse North American oil from unconventional sources apparently in favor of oil from
OPEC sources like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela . How’s that for energy independence and security?
It gets worse if you’re one of those who believe that biofuels are the path to energy independence.
The plain language of section 526 would also seem to ban the federal government from purchasing biofuels like
ethanol, since their lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are greater than that of conventional petroleum.
“Turning native ecosystems into “farms” for biofuel crops causes major carbon emissions that worsen the
global warming that biofuels are meant to mitigate,” researchers from the University of Minnesota and the Nature
Conservancy reported in Science (Feb. 7). Another study in the same issue of Science projected that
the lifecycle greenhouse gas emission from ethanol over 30 years are twice as high as from regular gasoline.
Interestingly, Reps. Waxman and Davis specifically excluded biofuels from their letter to the DOD. Not to worry,
though, biofuels will likely soon become fuel-non-grata as the environmentalists have already started to demonize
Similar to the case of compact fluorescent
lightbulbs discussed in this column last week, the New York Times editorial page this week signaled
that biofuels will soon become as politically incorrect as the Canadian tar sands and domestic coal-to-liquid
The Times opined that, “Done right, ethanol could help wean the country from its dependence on foreign
oil while reducing the emissions that contribute to climate change. Done wrong, ethanol could wreak havoc on the
environment while increasing greenhouse gases.”
“Done right” for the Times is what’s required in the energy bill -- a 20 percent reduction in
lifecycle greenhouse gases as compared to gasoline. But of course this is a next-to-impossible goal since the
lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for ethanol currently are projected to be 100 percent greater than for
It will likely require nothing short of technological miracle for ethanol to achieve the energy bill’s standards
in the near, or even, distant future.
Now, if the federal government is barred from bio-, tar sand, coal-to-liquid fuels, how long will it be before
such a ban spreads to contractors that do business with the federal government, to states and their contractors,
and then, by default, to the nation as a whole?
It’s hard to take the presidential candidates, President Bush and Congress too seriously on the energy
independence issue when none of them opposed a bill that actually makes us more dependent on OPEC.
Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com
He is a junk science expert, and advocate
of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise