Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Democrats seek energy independence by 2020

Democrats seek energy independence by 2020

By Timothy Gardner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Democrats launched a plan on Monday for energy independence by 2020 that seeks to relieve historically high oil and gas prices by cutting reliance on foreign sources of energy.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid Pennsylvania's Gov. Ed Rendell said greater use of renewable energy, mass transit and domestic fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel could cut oil and gas imports. A plan they unveiled on Monday is called Energy Independence 2020.

President George W. Bush is seeking more domestic production of oil by pushing Congress to include opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling in a bill that could see a vote this week. He also supports heavy investment in hydrogen energy.

Some energy analysts say the United States, which consumes about a quarter of the 80 million barrels of oil the world uses daily, will be dependent on imports for many decades into the future because alternatives only provide a percentage point or two of the country's energy.

Last week homeowners suffered record prices for natural gas as a nationwide cold spike pushed the heating and cooking fuel to above $15 per million British thermal units. Analysts say low temperatures through December could keep a fire under prices.

U.S. oil hit a record over $70 a barrel this summer. They have since fallen as supplies swelled but prices rose above $60 on Monday as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries paved the way for a cut in output early next year.

Rendell cited Brazil, which has slashed its dependence on crude by making fuel from sugar cane and by producing cars that run on gasoline or ethanol. "If Brazil can do it, so can we," he Rendell.

In unveiling the plan, Clinton told reporters that U.S. dependence on oil makes up one third of the country's trade deficit.

The U.S. spends $50 billion a year to deploy U.S. forces in the Mideast Gulf and to supply military assistance to countries to secure the flow of oil to the United States, Clinton told reporters. "And that does not include the lives and dollars we are spending in Iraq," she said.

Robert Ebel, the head the energy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the huge number of cars and service stations that currently make up the U.S. energy infrastructure make dubious the goal of energy independence in 15 years.

He said politicians called for energy independence in 1990. But since then oil imports have risen about 10 percentage points. "We have to recognize that oil producers and consumers need each other. What we need is more energy interdependence, not energy independence."

He said the money the United States sends abroad to procure oil "is an expense that the U.S. bears to keep the world going ahead in ... economic terms."

While the U.S. has crude and heating oil reserves, more supply safeguards could be on the horizon. U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman has said in recent weeks that the White House was preparing a new U.S. energy plan that could include creating emergency stockpiles of natural gas and gasoline.