Set America Free
By Bill Moore
It quickly becomes apparent when talking with Anne Korin, the co-director of the Institute for Analysis of Global Security in Washington,D.C., that she is earnestly passionate about the need to quickly reduce America's dependence on imported oil, maybe even deadly serious. And if her attitude is any reflection of the mood within the national security elite of our nation's capital, then the tide has indeed begun to turn.
American presidents since the days of Jimmy Carter have called for energy independence, but its been little more than bravado as the country has steadily continued to rely more and more on imports, now over 60 percent of our daily consumption, to satisfy our oil addiction. And surprisingly, Korin dismisses the oil presumed to be under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as insignificant in the larger scheme of things.
The IAGS and other conservative think tanks, including the National Defense Council Foundation, Center for Security Policy, Foundation for Defense of Democracy, and the Hudson Institute, along with the American Council on Renewable Energy and the National Resources Defense Council, have joined forces to create what Korin calls a four-year, $12 billion "Blueprint for Energy Security" to "Set America Free", and promisingly, it just could be achievable with strong, bipartisan leadership from Congress, if not the White House.
I began by asking Korin about the purpose of IAGS. She explained that one of its primary focuses is to look at the security risks posed by our energy system, not only the tactical issues of how to protect our current system from terrorist attack but also the strategic issues dealing with our current energy mix. The group's blueprint is intended to be a practical road map to immediately begin reordering that mix, which includes the introduction of more flexible fuel vehicles and -- are you ready for this? -- plug-in hybrids.
But after more than 30 years of talk and little real action, apart from shifting the percentage of imports away from OPEC, which is only a temporary stop gap, Korin and her national security colleagues, including former CIA director James Woolsey, think its time for change.
"We've been talking about this forever and nothing's been done," she told me. "Many politicians... every politician, in fact, has a speech on energy security and mostly it's just words; and it time to get beyond words and into action. It's also time to focus on exactly what the problem is we're trying to solve."
Korin asserts that while there are many security issues that need attention, the "Set America Free" blueprint seeks to address one problem only, oil imports. She is of the conviction that conservative think tanks like hers and environmental advocates like NRDC and ACORE can come together on this question, setting aside the 20 percent of other issues on which they don't agree. She pointed out that society is always going to need oil for a wide variety of products, but we don't need to burn it in our internal combustion engines any longer.
"If we look at our oil consumption (in America), the U.S. accounts for 25 percent of the world's consumption, yet holds three percent of the world's oil reserves. You add ANWR into the mix, you go from 2.9 percent to 3.2. It's just not significant.
"Two-thirds of our oil consumption is in the transportation sector," she continued, "and two-thirds of that is in our cars as gasoline. So, if we want to make oil from a strategic commodity into just another commodity, what we need to do is deal with oil consumption in the transportation sector".
She added that only two percent of the nation's electricity is generated from oil. "If you want to reduce consumption of oil, you must focus on the transportation sector. That is what we've tried to do in the Set America Free plan; focus the transportation sector and look at technologies that are really ready to go into the market; that are not in R&D stage, but are ready to go out into the market and just need that push"...
I asked Korin about recent comments made by Lee Raymond, the chairman of ExxonMobil, who said back in June of this year, "We do not have the resource base to be energy independent. ... We simply cannot avoid significant reliance on oil and gas from the Middle East."
In response, she replied, "I think American's need to realize, especially right now, after 9/11, they need to realize what are the security implications of our oil dependence. Two thirds of the world's oil reserves are located in the Middle East. You look beyond the Middle East and you see that three-quarters of oil reserves are located in parts of the world that, frankly, don't particularly like us. Those are parts of the world where Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise. Anti-American, anti-Western activity is on the rise. Terrorist groups are strengthening"...
She reminded me and EV World listeners/readers that every time we go to a gasoline station to fill up our cars, a portion of that money ends up funding activities and organizations that hate us.
"What Americans need to realize is that we are fighting a war on terror and that we are funding both sides of this war. That has to stop".
The Pillars for Changing America's Energy Mix
Korin told EV World that not only doesn't the nation have enough oil to serve our current needs, estimated at 18-20 million barrels a day, but that neither do we have enough natural gas.
"But we do have a lot of other energy resources," she said, pointing to our abundance of coal and biomass, as well as renewables like solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric.
"The question is, how can we use the energy resources we have domestically"? adding that other rising economic powerhouses like China and India face the same challenge. "How do we use (these other energy sources) to displace our need for oil"?
Underpinning the "Set America Free" blueprint are four key elements or what Korin calls "pillars":
- Use Available Technologies -- According to Korin, realistically, it will take 15-20 years for any technology to reach sufficient numbers to make a serious impact on the structure of the current automotive fleet. That's why her group believes we need to act now and not wait for technologies to mature that are still in the R&D stage.
- Use Domestic Energy Resources -- Coal transformed into methanol, biomass processed into ethanol, and electric power generated from renewables, nuclear and coal.
- Use Solutions that Consumers Will Accept -- Give consumers the vehicles they want and are used to. "The way the auto runs should be a 'black box' to the consumer," she said, implying that it should be as transparent as possible without sacrificing performance, comfort or safety.
- Use Existing Infrastructure -- "The more you need to change your infrastructure, the more time it's going to take, the more you face the chicken 'n egg issue".
For Korin and her group, fuel diversification is critical. Right now, we are largely dependent on one type of fuel, gasoline, she stated; and diesel fuel to a far less extent. The "Set America Free" initiative proposes expanding that fuel mix substantially to other types of liquid fuels, as well as using of electricity.
"Electricity can also be used as a fuel and electricity can be used to move us around".
Just exactly how Korin and her associates envision this happening is the topic of the second half of our dialog.