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Presidential promises regarding oil

February 16, 2011

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President Illinois Renewable Energy Association

President Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union address gave clean energy advocates something to cheer about when he called for cutting billions of dollars subsidizing the oil industry and using the money to accelerate the development of clean energy sources. He also joined the long list of presidents who called for reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Yet, despite ongoing calls for reducing oil imports, our dependency continues to grow, as do funds leaving the country.

His promised clean energy investments included high-speed rail and Internet, wind, solar and hydro power, electric cars, nuclear and clean coal. What went unsaid was the challenge of taking tax breaks from the oil industry, which would involve overcoming the industry’s influence in Congress.

The fossil fuel industry has strengthened its bargaining position with claims that abundant, but relatively costly, supplies of oil and gas could be tapped within North America if environmental regulations did not prevent their exploitation. As we learned in the recent Gulf of Mexico oil blowout, expanded efforts to secure energy are risky endeavors necessitating strict regulation and effective enforcement.

Little mention was made of the necessity of changing our lifestyles to lessen our energy dependence. But with continuing outsourcing of jobs and technological obsolescence of labor, inflation in energy and food prices, increased taxes along with the decline in home values, the lifestyles of many Americans have already changed as citizens have less money available to them.

The overall structure of society is still geared to scattered, low-density housing, shopping and other services that keep us dependent on cars. While upgrading our highways, bridges and airports is warranted, it also reinforces and extends the existing pattern of development.

The movement toward clean energy sources, including manufacturing, shipping, installing and maintaining clean energy systems, electric cars and their batteries relies on fossil fuels.

Even the “feebate” concept advocated by The Rocky Mountain Institute, which includes charging more for inefficient cars and using that extra revenue to pay the additional cost of purchasing energy-efficient cars, relies on fossil fuels.

If the billions in oil subsidies were redirected toward clean energy sources and associated jobs, it would be a significant stimulus for the green economy. With the drive for lower taxes and budget-cutting pressures, it is far from certain the presidential initiatives will be funded.

Our discussions and actions need to move beyond finding additional energy sources to maintain the existing pattern of economic conquest to discussing, developing plans and implementing actions to reorganize our society in a manner consistent with the continued decline in conventional oil supplies.

We hope President Obama has more success than previous presidents in cutting our reliance on imported oil. Although the chances of success are uncertain, individuals and communities should be working toward those ends now.

With colleges and universities educating students in these technologies, we are building a workforce capable of implementing the clean energy economy. While some aspects are cost-effective, others still require government funds for implementation.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

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