- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

America's chronic dependence on foreign oil is not only an economic concern, but an important national security issue as well. It not only affects citizens and businesses nationwide, but also has a direct impact on our nation's ability to fight and win wars. As we prepare to engage in critical military operations in the Middle East (among other places), it is important to understand that our forces are highly dependent on foreign oil, much of which comes directly from the Middle East.
During the 1970s energy crisis, America was 36 percent dependent on foreign oil. Today we are 56 percent dependent and by 2010, we are headed for well over 60 percent. For the military, it now takes eight times as much oil to meet the needs of each U.S. soldier as it did during World War II. The Department of Defense today accounts for nearly 80 percent of all U.S. government energy use. Of that, nearly 75 percent is for jet fuel. During the Persian Gulf War, our 582,000 soldiers consumed 450,000 barrels of petroleum products four times the daily amount used by the 2 million Allied soldiers who liberated Europe from the Nazis in World War II. We are talking about a serious national security issue.
The time to act is now not for some immediate quick fix, but for the long-term security of America in the years and decades ahead. This year, the president made energy a top national priority and the House passed comprehensive energy policy in a bipartisan manner. There is no good reason for the Senate not to act. Yes, there is other pressing business, including an important defense bill which I helped to craft as a member of the Armed Services Committee.
But, the Senate should not let another year pass without addressing our nation's important energy concerns. Our lack of an adequate long-term national energy policy is not a partisan matter. It is a supreme national challenge that cannot be continually ignored without posing an increasing danger to our security and our way of life. Sadly, our nation has failed for three decades to address this issue properly.
My concern about energy security issues did not arise in the last two weeks, as some seem to believe. I have been talking about the need for a real national energy policy since the mid-1980s, when I traveled around the country with President Reagan's energy secretary, Don Hodel, trying to drum up support for measures to increase our nation's energy independence. At a Senate hearing in January 1998, I elicited virtual consensus from the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that energy security was a too-often-overlooked aspect of our national security needs.
In recent days in the Senate, I have proposed attaching a comprehensive energy package (the House-passed bill) to the defense bill. My purpose is not to block the necessary defense bill, but rather to advance a similarly necessary energy-security measure, the important parts of which are supported by the president and a bipartisan coalition in the House and Senate.
This energy package includes many provisions, including those encouraging conservation, efficiency and alternative sources, as well as technology development and more domestic energy production, including renewables. It also includes (in two pages out of the 300-page bill) authority for environmentally safe energy exploration on a small tract of desolate land in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
Predictably, the usual voices have been aroused to claim that the tiny ANWR provision "politicizes" the debate because they say it is "controversial." The truth is that ANWR is only controversial to the extent that these same voices have themselves for years "politicized" this single issue on their own. Their tired refrain that ANWR "will destroy the environment" is so out of date and out of touch with reality when we have the technology and the know-how to affirmatively protect the environment while meeting an important long-term national security challenge.
Those who oppose serious domestic energy production should have their say. Let them come forward and make their case. In filing comprehensive energy amendments on the defense bill, I asked the Senate leadership simply to allow a debate and a vote now or to guarantee a date by which the Senate would be able to act on some form of a national energy policy in the near future. This is not unreasonable. With the House having already passed a bill in keeping with the president's priorities, it is time for the Senate to vote, for the Congress to act and for America to move forward towards true and lasting energy independence.
My effort to spur Congress to address energy security issues this year stems from a firm belief that after too many years of neglect the American people want our country to comprehensively rebuild our military, our defenses and our future security on all fronts. This was true before Sept. 11. It is only more true today. Let us not detract from the solidarity that exists behind President Bush. But let us also not be paralyzed into momentary fear and inaction. Let us work with him, following his leadership, to do what we know is right for America.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, is ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.

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