Posts Tagged ‘double jeopardy’

Double Jeopardy: Congress’ Failure to Act on Energy and Climate Is a National Security Tragedy

February 28, 2012

Double Jeopardy: Congress’ Failure to Act on Energy and Climate Is a National Security Tragedy

Bill Becker, Think Progress/ News Report

Published: Monday 27 February 2012
“Consider what Congress is doing, or not doing, about oil prices, economic stability, climate change, and our military effectiveness.”

The most se­ri­ous threat to U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity and eco­nomic health today is not not al Qaeda or a nu­clear Iran or the price of gaso­line.

No, at the mo­ment the gravest threat is our own in­abil­ity to take ac­tion on fun­da­men­tal threats, like global warm­ing. The jeop­ardy we are in is dou­bled by a Con­gress that is ei­ther in­ca­pable of or un­will­ing to act.

Con­gress’s fail­ures are acts of com­mis­sion as well as omis­sion. A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Sen­a­tors and House mem­bers are try­ing to get rid of poli­cies and tools that past Con­gresses put in place to pro­tect us. Some of the Re­pub­li­can can­di­dates for pres­i­dent are com­plicit.

Con­sider what Con­gress is doing, or not doing, about oil prices, eco­nomic sta­bil­ity, cli­mate change, and our mil­i­tary ef­fec­tive­ness.

It has been clear for a gen­er­a­tion that Amer­ica’s de­pen­dence on oil jeop­ar­dizes our econ­omy. At the mo­ment, we are sup­port­ing eco­nomic sanc­tions against Iran to dis­cour­age it from build­ing nu­clear weapons, and Iran is re­tal­i­at­ing with its own eco­nomic sanc­tion, threat­en­ing to block the ship­ping route for one-fifth of the world’s oil sup­ply. Our sanc­tions are de­fen­si­ble; con­tin­u­ing to rely on the re­source that al­lows Iran to ex­tort us is not. And under the threat of being pushed back into a crip­pling re­ces­sion, we are in dan­ger of an­other Mid­dle East oil war.

It’s a case of sus­tained reck­less­ness that the world has al­lowed a sin­gle ship­ping pas­sage to be so im­por­tant to the global econ­omy all these years. A com­bi­na­tion of ge­og­ra­phy and global en­ergy use gives Iran this power. It sits on the bor­der of the Per­sian Gulf, in­clud­ing a nar­row ship­ping pas­sage called the Strait of Hor­muz.  Oil ship­ments through the Strait were jeop­ar­dized in 1980 by the Iran-Iraq war. Iran threat­ened to stop ship­ping in the Strait in 1984 and again in 1997.

Iran doesn’t have to carry out its threat to send shocks through the world oil mar­ket. The mere pos­si­bil­ity that it might try to mine the Strait or begin in­spect­ing tankers in its ter­ri­to­r­ial wa­ters is help­ing push gaso­line prices to­ward $5 this year. Bloomberg re­ports that if Iran car­ried out its threat, oil could reach $150 a bar­rel.

What in­flu­ence do oil prices have on the econ­omy?  Ten of the 11eco­nomic re­ces­sions in the United States since World War II have been pre­ceded by oil price shocks, as have all our re­ces­sions since the U.S. be­came a net oil im­porter in the 1970s.

Today, it wouldn’t take much to push the frag­ile U.S. econ­omy back into cri­sis, a cat­a­strophic de­vel­op­ment for Amer­i­can fam­i­lies try­ing to hang on to their jobs, houses and re­tire­ment sav­ings.

In light of this clear and pre­sent dan­ger, Con­gress should be rush­ing to ap­prove a new na­tional trans­porta­tion pro­gram that helps us tran­si­tion away from oil. Fed­eral fund­ing cur­rently fa­vors local high­way con­struc­tion over mass tran­sit and other al­ter­na­tives that would re­duce oil con­sump­tion. Con­gress has failed for years to ap­prove a long-term trans­porta­tion pol­icy, let alone one that pro­motes en­ergy se­cu­rity, and it ap­pears poised to fail again. At the mo­ment, the House is con­sid­er­ing pro­pos­als to spend all gas tax rev­enues on high­ways and none on mass tran­sit, and to in­crease do­mes­tic oil pro­duc­tion.

Cli­mate change is an­other ex­am­ple of Con­gress’s will­ful fail­ure to pro­tect the Amer­i­can peo­ple, pre­sent and fu­ture. Since so many ad­vo­cates of sane cli­mate pol­icy have given up on the cur­rent Con­gress, I might be ac­cused of beat­ing a dead horse on this issue, if the horse were dead. But it’s alive and kick­ing. The un­prece­dented ex­treme weather dis­as­ters we see here and around the world are con­sis­tent with the pre­dic­tions of cli­mate sci­en­tists and sam­ples of worse to come.

Mean­time, Con­gress and the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates re­main deaf to warn­ings by past and pre­sent mil­i­tary ex­perts that cli­mate change is a “threat mul­ti­plier” that jeop­ar­dizes our na­tional se­cu­rity.

Con­gress has not only failed to ap­prove a co­her­ent na­tional pro­gram to re­duce the risks of cli­mate change; the House voted ear­lier this year to elim­i­nate vir­tu­ally all fed­eral au­thor­ity and fund­ing for cli­mate change re­search, mit­i­ga­tion and adap­ta­tion.

Now the House is play­ing pol­i­tics with the lives of Amer­i­can sol­diers. Re­pub­li­can op­po­si­tion re­port­edly is ris­ing to the Pen­ta­gon’s plan to use more re­new­able en­ergy, a switch it says will help make our troops safer and more ef­fec­tive and our mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions more se­cure.

De­part­ment of De­fense data show that be­tween 2003 and 2007, 3,000 U.S. sol­diers and civil­ians – one out of eight ca­su­al­ties in Iraq — died pro­tect­ing fuel con­voys in that war alone.  Re­duc­ing the num­ber of con­voys by using re­new­able re­sources should ap­peal to de­fense hawks. Deficit hawks, too. The mil­i­tary spent $15 bil­lion on fuel in 2010. Sol­diers on ac­tive duty con­sume an av­er­age of 3,555 gal­lons of fuel each year, com­pared to 945 gal­lons for the av­er­age civil­ian. Mil­i­tary lead­ers re­port that by the time pe­tro­leum fuels reach the most for­ward areas in Afghanistan, they cost around $300 per gal­lon.

Nev­er­the­less, Re­pub­li­cans dragged Navy Sec­re­tary Ray Mabus be­fore the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee ear­lier this month to re­mind him that he’s not the Sec­re­tary of En­ergy and to sug­gest that the Pen­ta­gon’s com­mit­ment to re­new­able en­ergy is a plot by the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion to carry out his “rad­i­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies,” in the words of Re­pub­li­can Pres­i­den­tial Can­di­date Rick San­to­rum.

It’s more likely that Pres­i­dent Obama’s prin­ci­pal ob­jec­tive is a stronger de­fense and fewer ca­su­al­ties among men and women in uni­form. But the Pres­i­dent’s mo­tives are im­ma­te­r­ial. Our sol­diers con­tinue dying today to sup­port an oil-de­pen­dent mil­i­tary. That’s not an issue to be triv­i­al­ized and politi­cized with an­other ridicu­lous con­spir­acy the­ory about the Pres­i­dent.

It would be re­as­sur­ing to hear this year’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates promise to put a stop to this id­iocy, but some of them are part of the prob­lem. San­to­rum is get­ting ap­plause from the Right by claim­ing that Obama’s en­ergy poli­cies are the re­sult of strange the­ol­ogy – mean­ing, ap­par­ently, that any­one who doesn’t wor­ship at the alter of Big Oil is a heretic.

Newt Gin­grich’s claim that “the high price of gaso­line is a di­rect re­sult of Obama” is an out­ra­geous ex­am­ple of play­ing pol­i­tics with a frag­ile econ­omy. Gin­grich is count­ing on the fact that most vot­ers don’t un­der­stand what makes oil mar­kets tick. He knows the world oil mar­ket largely de­ter­mines the price we pay for gaso­line, no pres­i­dent con­trols that mar­ket, and a new pipeline and more do­mes­tic drilling would have lit­tle im­pact on oil prices or our en­ergy se­cu­rity.

Given Con­gress’s in­tran­si­gence, we are left to hope that vot­ers are not as stu­pid as Gin­grich thinks – that they’ll end the ca­reers of politi­cians who be­cause of cow­ardice, or the power of spe­cial in­ter­ests, or their will­ing­ness to be team play­ers rather than pa­tri­ots, are jeop­ar­diz­ing the econ­omy and the se­cu­rity of the United States.