Candidates Fail Energy Independence Test

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
"billions 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 life-cycle greenhouse gas
emissions are greater than those from fuels produced from conventional
petroleum sources.

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, "U.S. 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 petroleum.

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-Calif., and Rep.
Tom Davis, R-Va., already are 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
coal-to-liquid processing.

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 such as 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 also would seem to ban the federal
government from purchasing biofuels like ethanol, since their
life-cycle 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 life-cycle greenhouse gas
emission from ethanol over 30 years is twice as high as from regular

Interestingly, Waxman and Davis specifically excluded biofuels from
their letter to the DOD. Not to worry, though, biofuels likely soon
will become fuel-non-grata as the environmentalists have already
started to demonize them.

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 soon will become as politically
incorrect as the Canadian tar sands and domestic coal-to-liquid fuels.

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 life-cycle greenhouse gases as compared to
gasoline. But, of course, this is a next-to-impossible goal since the
life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions for ethanol are projected to be 100
percent greater than for gasoline.

It likely will require nothing short of a 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 and He is a junk science expert, advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.