News Articles

Katie Howell

Senate Democrats today laid out a new plan to reduce the United States' foreign oil imports by boosting the use of energy conservation, electric vehicles and home-grown fuels.

Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Tom Carper of Delaware, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Michael Bennet of Colorado introduced the new legislation they say will help the United States eliminate the need for foreign oil imports within 20 years.

The measure incorporates other provisions that already have bipartisan support, like Merkley and Sen. Lamar Alexander's (R-Tenn.) electric vehicles bill (S. 948).

"Today, the lifeblood of our economy is oil. And if that oil is choked off, our economy will have a heart attack," Merkley said this afternoon at the Capitol. "That's an unsustainable and risky path for our nation."

Merkley said the new legislation will help chart a path to energy independence, a buzzword for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle this summer as fuel prices have skyrocketed. President Obama last week released 30 million barrels of crude oil from the nation's stockpile in an effort to appease markets that have been roiling since political unrest began in Libya and the Middle East earlier this year.

Other Democrats have proposed separate energy alternatives. But Republicans, for the most part, are loathe to embrace them. They would rather see the United States boost its domestic oil and gas production.

Merkley said his bill offers a better path forward.

"Increasing domestic drilling will not solve the problem, since the United States only has 3 percent of oil reserves, yet uses 25 percent of all oil," says a statement from Merkley's office about the new legislation. "The Department of Energy has estimated that opening up offshore drilling on both coasts would only lower the price of gasoline by three cents per gallon in 20 years. Moreover, domestic drilling is not without risks, as last year's BP oil well catastrophe has shown."

Specifically, the measure would provide incentives to ramp up deployment of electric vehicles, increase transportation options and improve infrastructure, boost the efficiency of gasoline engines, develop alternative transportation fuels and reduce the use of oil to heat buildings. It would also create a new White House National Council on Energy Security, modeled on the National Security Council, to ensure the United States has a strategic plan for energy independence.

"We have the technology know-how to eliminate our dependence on overseas oil and to do so within a 20-year period," Merkley said. "The question is not technology. The question is whether we have the political will to drive us forward."

The legislation is similar to a bill the lawmakers floated last summer that stalled in the Finance Committee.