Bruce Kauffmann Energy independence or…energy interdependence

In 1980 when President Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in great part because of America’s domestic economic woes, America depended on international suppliers for 40 percent of its petroleum products.  Last year that percentage was more than 65 percent, and although there are a number of other factors that have contributed to our current economic problems, the high price of energy certainly has not helped.

Small wonder that the just-launched White House blog recently spoke of President Obama signing “two Presidential Memoranda aimed at getting us on the path to energy independence.”

Granted, anything that can reduce our over dependence on foreign energy imports is a good thing and in his two memoranda President Obama directed the Department of Transportation to establish higher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles – known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE)– while paving the way for California and more than a dozen other states to raise emissions standards above and beyond the national standard.

yergincoverwebBut to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, which is the more important goal – energy independence or energy security? I would argue that Daniel Yergin, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, is right when he says energy security is more important – and certainly more achievable – than energy independence, and  achieving energy security will actually necessitate more energy interdependence.  According to Yergin, the key is diversity, not only diversity of energy sources, including renewables and the expanding global liquefied natural gas market, but also diversity of energy suppliers.  The more buyers and sellers there are, freely trading as many different forms of energy as currently exist, the less likelihood of supply disruptions and the more likelihood of a moderating effect on both price and volatility.

Of course, using less energy is also a critical goal, and the more that government at all levels can facilitate energy conservation and efficiency, the better – not only for our economy, but also for our environment.  But the larger point remains.  Our political leaders have been talking about “energy independence” since the Nixon Administration in the late 1960s and almost 50 years later we are more dependent than ever.   I doubt very much we can ever achieve energy independence.  But if we strengthen our ties to the global community of energy suppliers and buyers, I believe we can achieve energy security.

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