Kerry, Bush Spar Over Mideast Oil Dependency

Groups on both the political left and right support a new energy policy that reduces America's dependence on imported oil...

Published: 12-Oct-2004

INGTON, Oct 11 (IPS) - The two major U.S. presidential candidates may differ on many issues but appear to agree on at least one thing -- cutting U.S. dependence on Arab oil, although some analysts say it will not be as easy it sounds.

The issue was raised again Monday in a major speech by Democratic candidate, Senator John Kerry, who said President George W Bush is not doing enough to find renewable energy sources and other alternatives to end U.S. dependence on Arab oil. Kerry also pledged to make the United States independent of Middle East oil in 10 years.

Just three weeks prior to the election, Kerry charged that the United States, on Bush's watch, has become more dependent on foreign oil than when the president took office in 2001, putting the country's security at risk and burdening U.S. consumers.

Record fuel prices have translated into all-time high oil prices here, with some experts predicting no relief in sight. In most parts of the country, a gallon of gas costs more than two dollars, up 34 percent since Bush took office. Over the past four years, the cost of heating the average home with oil has gone up 91 percent.

”For the sake of our children, for the sake of our security, for the sake of our economy, for the sake of our environment -- we must meet that challenge and make America energy independent of Mideast oil,” Kerry said in a campaign stop in New Mexico.

His plan to do that includes expanding the use of nuclear energy and creating a fund that will provide incentives to automakers to develop more fuel-efficient cars and to consumers to purchase the vehicles.

Kerry also pledges to work towards finding new sources of natural gas; rely on ”clean coal” as an energy source; and to ensure that 20 percent of U.S. electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020. He will also seek more other sources of oil in the United States and in non-Arab exporting countries.

During their second presidential debate on Friday, Bush said he also has an energy plan with the same goal -- to ”help us become less dependent on foreign sources of energy.”

His plan centres on providing four billion dollars in tax incentives for conservation and technology exploration. Bush has also proposed to update the electricity grid and encourage new investment in transmission.

But Kerry says the plan will provide tax breaks totalling nearly 15 billion dollars for Bush's friends in the oil and gas industries. He also criticised the administration for trying to exempt oil and gas companies from provisions of the Clean Water Act that limit pollution, threatening the environment.

While Bush supports exploration and production of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which contains at least 10 times more oil than the nation's strategic petroleum reserve can hold when it is completely filled, Kerry rejects the plan on environmental grounds.

Allies of both candidates have weighed in on the oil debate in recent weeks.

Late in September, a group of right-wing and pro-Israel neo-conservative groups issued a letter to the U.S. people called 'Set America Free', urging them to stop using oil from the Middle East.

The groups included Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS), the Centre for Security Policy, the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, The Committee on the Present Danger and National Defence Council Foundation, all staunch advocates of the war in Iraq and of the policies of Israel's governing Likud Party.

Ironically, like Kerry, the groups -- whose meeting in Washington was addressed by James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) -- say that by promoting improved technology, the United States can ”win the war on terror and shake the yoke of our energy dependence without compromising our way of life.”

Groups on the left of the political spectrum also say a new energy policy is needed. On Monday, the Earth Policy Institute said new technologies are the answer.

Gas-electric hybrid engines and advanced-design wind turbines, for example, offer a way to wean the country from imported oil, argued the Washington DC-based research centre.

”If over the next decade we convert the U.S. automobile fleet to gas-electric hybrids with the efficiency of today's Toyota Prius, we could cut our gasoline use in half. No change in the number of vehicles, no change in miles driven -- just doing it more efficiently,” said Lester R Brown, president of the institute, in a statement.

But some analysts doubt the United States can be rid of foreign oil any time soon. Many estimate that during the next 20 years, U.S. oil consumption will grow by one-third and electricity demand could increase by more than 45 percent.

The United States, a country of 294 million people, is already importing 2.5 million barrels of oil from the Middle East every day.

When Washington invaded oil-rich Iraq in March 2003 -- for its oil despite the administration's claim, many people believe -- officials estimated that oil prices would be as low as 28 dollars a barrel in 2004. Last week, gas prices hit a record 53 dollars a barrel.

The benchmark for European imports of Middle Eastern, Russian and African crude -- Brent crude -- closed at 50.66 dollars a barrel Monday, up 95 cents on the day on London's International Petroleum Exchange. It is now 20 dollars higher than at the start of the year.

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