On July 15, U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced the Oil Independence for a Stronger America Act (S. 3601), a bill intended to move America toward oil independence, strengthen national security, and create jobs. The bill aims to reduce U.S. oil consumption by approximately 8 million barrels per day in 2030 by improving vehicle efficiency, developing alternative transportation fuels, enhancing travel options and transportation infrastructure, and reducing oil used to heat buildings.

Because these measures require sustained investment and focus, the bill also proposes to establish a National Council on Energy Security in the Executive Office of the President to track progress and ensure that results are achieved. Sen. Carper stated that the bill would establish “an ambitious, but attainable, goal of eliminating all oil imports from outside of North America by 2030.” Senator Merkley added that “American entrepreneurs and workers have the ingenuity and grit necessary to break this addiction to foreign oil.”

Sen. Merkley emphasized that the legislation would greatly reduce the vulnerability of the U.S. economy to spikes and fluctuations in the global price of oil. The Energy Information Administration projects that the U.S. will import oil in 2030 at a rate of about 8.3 million barrels per day with approximately 6.1 million barrels per day coming from non-North American countries. The United States currently spends almost a billion dollars a day to buy oil from other countries.

The senators noted that increased domestic oil production alone cannot resolve the national security and economic problems associated with our dependence on oil. Sen. Udall pointed out that “the United States only has 3 percent of oil reserves, yet uses 25 percent of all oil,” and further explained that the Department of Energy (DOE) “estimated that opening up offshore drilling on both coasts would only lower the price of gasoline by three cents per gallon by 2030.” DOE projects that future offshore oil production will supply approximately 2 million barrels per day in 2030.

The Oil Independence for a Stronger America Act proposes employing multiple strategies simultaneously to trim down America’s oil diet. The bill promotes incentives to purchase electric vehicles (EVs), provides needed EV infrastructure in specified deployment communities, and recommends improvements in fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles after 2017. These strategies alone are estimated to reduce U.S. oil use by 3.2 million barrels per day while fuel economy improvements for heavy-duty trucks and non-road vehicles should amount to an additional 2 million barrels per day. The bill also includes Sen. Carper’s proposed CLEAN-TEA legislation to improve transit, which he explained will “provide Americans with a practical alternative to using their cars, trucks, and vans for every trip.” The improved transit options combined with shifting 10 percent of freight cargo from inefficient trucks to more efficient rail and marine methods would further reduce domestic oil use by 1.7 million barrels per day. Lastly, increased use of alternative fuels and building energy efficiency programs tack on another 1.3 million barrel per day reduction. Thus, the bill’s plan is estimated to realize a total oil savings of 8.3 million barrels per day, which is equivalent to 96 percent of U.S. oil imports, and 135 percent of imports from outside North America.

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) will bring experts to Capitol Hill on July 22 to discuss the realities of oil independence and examine potential technology and policy solutions. Speakers will include Senator Merkley, Beth Osborne of the U.S. Department of Transportation, David Greene of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Ronald Minsk of Securing America’s Future Energy, Arlee Reno of Cambridge Systematics, and Alan Krupnick of Resources for the Future. Presentations from this event will be posted at www.eesi.org/072210_oil .