The oil spill in the Gulf is horrific and it's very likely it'll get worse. While locals get to work scrubbing the oiled birds with Dawn dish detergent, a fracas will begin in Washington. Generally speaking this is an opera called "The Punishment," and for the last two major oil spills of great political consequence (Santa Barbara in 1969 and the Exxon Valdez in 1989) it involved a moratorium on drilling somewhere in the US. The problem with this, as I lay out in an op-ed in today's New York Times, is that we basically shift drilling and its risks to other countries. (The figure that the Niger Delta, roughly the size of England, has suffered the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez of spilled oil every year since 1969 ought to make us cry.)
This time we need to use the political will generated by this really awful event to implement a comprehensive plan to reduce American dependence on oil.
Off the top of my head, here are a few possible places to start (and feel free to add your own
We could begin to reduce oil dependence immediately with some of the measures suggested in this 2005 International Energy Agency report called Saving Oil In A Hurry. (Download a PDF here.)
A very diverse group (of which I am a recent member) called the Coalition for Mobility Choice has a 10-point plan to reduce oil dependence through various policies. Deron Lovaas of NRDC gave detailed testimony before a Senate Committee in March. (Download PDF here.) The basic package of policy changes he recommends could save 2 to 3 million barrels a day by 2020, and much more if we accelerated fuel economy standards for cars.
We could save even more if we started to use natural gas trucking, which has impressive numbers for both fuel savings and pollution in this Center For American Progress study.
What would we gain by implementing the Oil Consumption Reduction Act? (Got something catchier? Please post below.)
Secondly, we'll reduce the risk of spills, accidents, and blowouts that every gallon carries.
Thirdly, we'll reduce the greenhouse gases emitted by the burning oil.
Fourthly, we'll reduce the pollution, and the costs of dealing with the health effects of breathing oil pollution. See last week's report from the American Lung Association.
Fifthly, we might reduce the amount of time we spend in traffic. (Los Angeles commuters spend nearly two work weeks sitting in traffic every year. Bizarre.)
Sixthly, we'll reduce the amount of energy we spend defending oil shipping lanes and other oil related military projects.
Seventhly, we'll increase our competitiveness by increasing our ability to turn energy into GDP. We'll also start markets for energy efficient and clean technologies.
Eighthly, because times of national crisis are priceless opportunities to air a pet peeve: we could ban gasoline-powered leaf blowers, which consume 200 million gallons of gasoline a year. (Go to Table 2.10 in ORNL's Transportation Energy Data Book to geek out on energy consumption by lawn and garden equipment.)