Addressing Systemic Failures: Merkley’s Plan to Reduce U.S. Oil Dependence

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, image courtesy of merkley.senate.gov

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) unveiled his 20-year plan to reduce U.S. oil consumption on Monday at an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress. Senator Merkley stressed the importance of rapidly enacting his plan given the ongoing devastation from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In Monday’s speech, Senator Merkley highlighted several additional costs and risks of continued U.S. reliance on foreign oil. He pointed out that 70 percent of oil consumed domestically comes from overseas, and this fraction is projected to only increase since the U.S. has only 3 percent of world oil reserves left. Senator Merkley called plans to accelerate domestic oil drilling misguided, saying they would increase dependence on foreign oil by depleting U.S. reserves even faster and failing to encourage the transition to a clean energy infrastructure. His plan states that even an aggressive pursuit of domestic oil that would open all offshore resources to drilling immediately would reduce the price of gasoline by only three cents per gallon in 2030.

Senator Merkley’s “Roadmap to Oil Independence” includes several key elements to reduce U.S. oil consumption by over 8 million barrels per day, including aggressive electric vehicle deployment and stronger fuel efficiency requirements for a broad range of vehicles including passenger cars, heavy trucks, airplanes, trains, and ships. Other pillars of the plan include improved mass transit options and investment in alternative transportation fuels.

Senator Merkley mentioned synergies between his plan and the American Power Act released by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass) and Joe Lieberman (I-VT) last month, and called on lawmakers to seize this moment of opportunity to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation. He pointed out that while many in Congress are reluctant to take on major legislative battles so close to midterm elections, the political climate in Washington could be even more reticent to take significant action next year once the new Congress takes power, potentially with a higher number of Republican climate-legislation skeptics.

Senator Merkley warned that unless climate legislation and energy reform are passed now, it could be another eight to ten years before the political pendulum swings back in favor of action. He also derided the recent trend in the Senate requiring 60 votes rather than a simple majority to pass legislation due to threat of filibuster from Republican opponents, saying it undermined the proper functioning of American democracy. Let us hope our political system doesn’t continue to stand in the way of a transition of our energy system.

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