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Admin: Conserving Oil Not Imperative   08/19 11:18

   Conserving oil is no longer an economic imperative for the U.S., the Trump 
administration declares in a major new policy statement that threatens to 
undermine decades of government campaigns for gas-thrifty cars and other 
conservation programs.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Conserving oil is no longer an economic imperative for 
the U.S., the Trump administration declares in a major new policy statement 
that threatens to undermine decades of government campaigns for gas-thrifty 
cars and other conservation programs.

   The position was outlined in a memo released last month in support of the 
administration's proposal to relax fuel mileage standards. The government 
released the memo online this month without fanfare.

   Growth of natural gas and other alternatives to petroleum has reduced the 
need for imported oil, which "in turn affects the need of the nation to 
conserve energy," the Energy Department said. It also cites the now decade-old 
fracking revolution that has unlocked U.S. shale oil reserves, giving "the 
United States more flexibility than in the past to use our oil resources with 
less concern."

   With the memo, the administration is formally challenging old justifications 
for conservation --- even congressionally prescribed ones, as with the mileage 
standards. The memo made no mention of climate change. Transportation is the 
single largest source of climate-changing emissions.

   President Donald Trump has questioned the existence of climate change, 
embraced the notion of "energy dominance" as a national goal, and called for 
easing what he calls burdensome regulation of oil, gas and coal, including 
repealing the Obama Clean Power Plan.

   Despite the increased oil supplies, the administration continues to believe 
in the need to "use energy wisely," the Energy Department said, without 
elaboration. Department spokesmen did not respond Friday to questions about 
that statement.

   Reaction was quick.

   "It's like saying, 'I'm a big old fat guy, and food prices have dropped --- 
it's time to start eating again,'" said Tom Kloza, longtime oil analyst with 
the Maryland-based Oil Price Information Service.

   "If you look at it from the other end, if you do believe that fossil fuels 
do some sort of damage to the atmosphere ... you come up with a different 
viewpoint," Kloza said. "There's a downside to living large."

   Climate change is a "clear and present and increasing danger," said Sean 
Donahue, a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund.

   In a big way, the Energy Department statement just acknowledges the world's 
vastly changed reality when it comes to oil.

   Just 10 years ago, in summer 2008, oil prices were peaking at $147 a barrel 
and pummeling the global economy. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting 
Countries was enjoying a massive transfer of wealth, from countries dependent 
on imported oil. Prices now are about $65.

   Today, the U.S. is vying with Russia for the title of top world oil 
producer. U.S. oil production hit an all-time high this summer, aided by the 
technological leaps of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

   How much the U.S. economy is hooked up to the gas pump, and vice versa, 
plays into any number of policy considerations, not just economic or 
environmental ones, but military and geopolitical ones, said John Graham, a 
former official in the George W. Bush administration, now dean of the School of 
Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.

   "Our ability to play that role as a leader in the world is stronger when we 
are the strongest producer of oil and gas," Graham said. "But there are still 
reasons to want to reduce the amount we consume."

   Current administration proposals include one that would freeze mileage 
standards for cars and light trucks after 2020, instead of continuing to make 
them tougher.

   The proposal eventually would increase U.S. oil consumption by 500,000 
barrels a day, the administration says. While Trump officials say the freeze 
would improve highway safety, documents released this month showed senior 
Environmental Protection Agency staffers calculate the administration's move 
would actually increase highway deaths.

   "American businesses, consumers and our environment are all the losers under 
his plan," said Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat. "The only clear winner is 
the oil industry. It's not hard to see whose side President Trump is on."

   Administration support has been tepid to null on some other long-running 
government programs for alternatives to gas-powered cars.

   Bill Wehrum, assistant administration of the EPA's Office of Air and 
Radiation, spoke dismissively of electric cars --- a young industry supported 
financially by the federal government and many states --- this month in a call 
with reporters announcing the mileage freeze proposal.

   "People just don't want to buy them," the EPA official said.

   Oil and gas interests are campaigning for changes in government conservation 
efforts on mileage standards, biofuels and electric cars.

   In June, for instance, the American Petroleum Institute and other industries 
wrote eight governors, promoting the dominance of the internal-combustion 
engine and questioning their states' incentives to consumers for electric cars.

   Surging U.S. and gas production has brought on "energy security and 
abundance," Frank Macchiarola, a group director of the American Petroleum 
Institute trade association, told reporters this week, in a telephone call 
dedicated to urging scrapping or overhauling of one U.S. program for biofuels.

   Fears of oil scarcity used to be a driver of U.S. energy policy, Macchiarola 
said.

   Thanks partly to increased production, "that pillar has really been rendered 
essentially moot," he said.


(KA)

 
 
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