In the last seven years this administration has done little to confront the looming danger that our consumption of fossil fuels presents to the nation's environment, economy and national security. Perhaps their singular contribution has been to idly sit by and watch the price of oil escalate by over 400% since the administration's outset, overseeing a transfer, or better said a "tax," on American consumers paying an additional $500 billion plus a year to oil interests both domestic and foreign. Seven years have passed without any significant progress in the abatement of our fossil fuel consumption, nor our dependence on foreign suppliers, nor in the transfer of the nation's wealth to regimes who support directly or indirectly the dissemination of radicalized religious teachings inflaming jihadists who would willfully destroy our way of life and our liberties.
We are at war with oil interests both here and abroad, whether it is the rapacious demands they are making on our economy and the world's economy, or using this tidal wave of money to fund movements and philosophies with the potential for destabilizing the world and our national security. And we are at war with our own personal demons, unable, unwilling to see the danger to ourselves, to our progeny, and to act in a manner that would forgo comforts and short-term advantage in order to secure our nations future, our planet's livability, our economic independence, and our self-respect.
This being said, perhaps no greater challenge will befall the next administration. Truly hard decisions will have to be made not only to catch up with the time lost, but to effectively deal with the issues at hand. Our nation, our future, must confront this existential challenge. Presidential leadership will be of primordial importance to make us understand the dangers and to make us willing to bear the burdens that need be imposed. Therefore Mr. and Mrs. Candidate, a few questions:
-Given the comments above, would you agree, and could you give us your perception of how important this issue is to the nation?
-In order to reduce consumption of petroleum based gasoline the new energy bill calls for the enhanced production and use of corn ethanol. Yet it is silent on the current 54 cent/gallon import duty on sugar based ethanol from Brazil. Brazilian ethanol yields more than eight times the energy it uses, surpassing corn ethanol's yield by a factor of almost seven. What steps would you take to remove this tariff, and do you believe it should be removed?
-The production of ethanol and bio based fuels will be increasing significantly in the years ahead. All this new supply will require distribution, that is retail selling points. Given the general reluctance of the oil industry to open their gas stations as well as those of their contracted distributors, how will you work to help the driving public overcome this major roadblock to accessing non petroleum based alternative energy sources?
-The oil and gas industry through lineage and moneyed lobbying has enormous influence on our government. The Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy have become virtual fiefdom's of the oil industry peopled in large measure by ex oil patch hires who have steered incredibly generous royalty, depletion allowances and tax incentives to the industry. At the Interior Department, Earl Deveney, the Interior Department's Inspector General would be quoted, "short of crime anything goes at the Department of the Interior" causing Rep. George Miller (D.California) to comment "if things keep going like this we're going to need two sets of handcuffs; one for the oil companies and one for the bureaucrats." How will you work to return government's oil, gas and energy policies to the needs of the nation as whole, rather than the narrow interests of the industry?
-Given the need to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, given our lack of self discipline, would you be prepared to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to pass a national cap on fossil fuel based gasoline so that in five years say, the consumption of petroleum based gasoline will have been reduced by 50% from todays levels. It would be clearly understood that this limitation would apply to fossil based fuels exclusively, the consumption of alternative energy sources such as ethanol, biomass, biodiesel, electric plug-ins, hydrogen and other non petroleum based fuels being open ended and priced to market?
-At the beginning of World War II the American automobile industry, at the government's behest, stopped production of virtually all personal automobiles, retooled, and became the core of the "Arsenal of Democracy" during the Second World War. Could you work with them in the same manner, providing government help with loan guarantees to assist retooling together with tax incentives, so that within a short but specified period of time all production of fossil fuel powered automobiles would be halted and only alternative fuel powered cars ranging from highly efficient hybrids to electric plug-ins would be produced?
-The United States has not opened a nuclear power plant since the 1970's. China, which is increasingly our world economic competitor, is heightening its energy efficiency by scheduling some 30 new nuclear power plants by the year 2025. France already generates more than 80% of its power needs from nuclear power. Nuclear energy is clean energy especially when compared to coal and oil, sparing the atmosphere of harmful pollutants as sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Clearly other countries have found solutions to the waste disposal problems, safety concerns and the licensing process. We need to rethink nuclear energy, and if you agree how do we go about doing so?
-In July of this year the House overwhelmingly passed what was called the NOPEC bill which would have lifted the sovereign exemption making it impossible to sue OPEC's state owned oil companies in U.S. Courts for collusion and restraint of trade. The president threatened to veto the measure, and so the bill died. Would you have acted likewise. If so, why, and if not, why not?
-Commodity trading markets have become suspect. There are many in Congress seeking stricter oversight. This after the Amaranth collapse while trying to manipulate the price of natural gas, BP's $300 million payment to settle accusations of trying to manipulate the propane market, the ongoing investigation of BP's activities impacting the crude oil market, are cases in point. There has been a call for greater investigative powers for the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (USCFTC) to determine the interrelationship of commodity trading and the movement of energy prices. If this is an issue of concern how would you act to allay or deal with these concerns?
-Much like a secluded monastery of old, in the mountains of Colorado lies a modern offshoot of beatific acolytes committed to finding the Rosetta stone that will lead us toward our nirvana of becoming a fossil fuel free nation. This temple is called the Rocky Mountain Institute and its mission is to free us from enslavement to petroleum/fossil fuel based energy. Here work is done with deep intelligence and profound commitment. Words like hybrid willow, poplar and native switchgrass are bandied about. A magical broth is brewing which may well give us the strength, and impart the needed vision to help us achieve energy independence. Here men of great achievement, including ex-presidents, come to partake knowledge and drink in inspiration, leaving with pride that our culture, our nation can at its most difficult times enlist the entrepreneurial energy of its citizens to begin leading us out of the wilderness. Are you familiar with the RMI and given that it has been largely ignored by this administration's Department of Energy, how would you engage it to help formulate your administration's energy policy?
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Raymond J. Learsy is the author of the updated version "Over a Barrel: Breaking Oil's Grip on Our Future"