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A More Efficient Road to Security

The United States is dangerously dependent on foreign oil. Today the United States depends on foreign nations, many in unstable parts of the world, to meet more than 60 percent of its oil demand.

We burn almost half of the oil we consume as gasoline. That’s why the most important step we can take to curb our growing oil vulnerability is to increase the fuel economy of the U.S. automobile fleet. We have the chance to do that in the energy bill that is now before Congress.

Terrorists understand our oil vulnerability — to them it is an opportunity. That’s why terrorists who aim to disrupt our economy are

targeting foreign oil infrastructure. One recently translated message posted to jihadist message boards calls upon “Mujahideen everywhere to attack not just people, but oil wells and pipelines.”

Increasingly, national security experts believe that a portion of U.S. oil money subsidizes terror, falling into the wrong hands through oil-producing states that sponsor terrorism.

In the words of Frank Gaffney, one of President Ronald Reagan’s assistant secretaries of Defense, “We’re paying them to kill us.”

Today the United States sends $28 million abroad every hour to pay for foreign oil.

This enormous transfer of wealth abroad represents a hidden tax on the American economy. It increases the trade imbalance, reduces the strength of the dollar, drives up the cost of other imported goods and stunts the growth of the nation’s GDP.

High oil prices are already triggering price spikes in consumer products, from plastic toys to weed killer to fertilizers. Experts say that farm profits will drop by 20 percent this year. And retailers like Best Buy have reported slower sales across the country because consumers have to spend their discretionary money on gasoline.

We shouldn’t expect relief anytime soon. As developing countries’ demand for oil grows, the cost of oil will rise for everyone. China’s demand for oil is growing seven times faster than that of the United States. Its imports have grown by more than 35 percent for two consecutive years. And by 2030 China will surpass the United States and become the world’s largest oil buyer. India is not far behind.

As a result, last week the Energy Information Administration predicted that gasoline prices will remain high through next year. Goldman Sachs issued a report last week also on future energy costs, warning that the price of a barrel of oil could climb to more than $100, which would push the price of gasoline to more than $4 a gallon.

So long as we continue to do little to curb our increasing demand for oil, our economy and our nation’s energy security will be vulnerable. Unfortunately, our dependence on foreign oil is expected to increase, driven primarily by demand in the transportation sector. By 2025, the Energy Information Administration estimates that U.S. daily oil consumption will increase by 50 percent to 29 million barrels. Seventy-five percent of the increase will come from overseas.

Why do we need so much more oil? Because our fuel economy standards have not kept up with technology. Automakers have continually developed better engines and transmissions and more aerodynamic designs. But while fuel economy standards have remained low, they have used these technologies to increase speed, power and weight rather than gas mileage. As a result, since 1981 the horsepower of cars and trucks today has nearly doubled while their weight has grown by 24 percent.

Meanwhile, fuel economy has stagnated. Our fuel economy standards today are lower than those of Australia, Canada, Japan, China and the European Union. Yet some of my colleagues still believe that we don’t have the technology to meet higher standards here in the United States.

We should put that idea behind us. A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences details 17 fuel-efficient technologies that U.S. auto makers could use to significantly increase fuel economy. Large SUVs and pickups, the report said, could get up to 40 percent better gas mileage.

Automakers know this. Earlier this month, they agreed to use many of these technologies to improve fuel economy in Canada by roughly 25 percent by 2010. Unfortunately, they resist doing the same here.

Raising fuel economy standards would also save consumers money at the pump. In the National Academy of Sciences’ scenario, buyers of large SUVs and pickup trucks would earn a net savings of $2,000 over the life of the vehicle — and that’s after accounting for the cost of the new technologies. Families purchasing minivans would earn a net savings of more than $1,000.

But what about safety? Must increasing fuel economy sacrifice safety? The answer is an emphatic “no.” At a Science Committee hearing in February, the nation’s top automotive experts, including a representative from the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers, disagreed with the assertion that safety must be compromised to increase fuel economy.

As Congress once again considers comprehensive energy legislation, we must seize the opportunity to reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil by raising fuel economy standards, which we can do without sacrificing safety. Our nation’s economic and energy security demands it.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) is the chairman of the Science Committee.

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