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Inslee: Respect Oil’s Value by Stopping Wastefulness

When President Barack Obama urged us to seek a spirit of healing rather than language of injury in our public discourse, he was not specifically speaking of energy policy. But his message inspired me to think, why don’t we energy warriors give consensus building a go anyway? Because, despite sometimes heated differences, we share the same goal: an American energy future free of dictates from overseas that supports a growing economy and creates good paying jobs here at home.

To that end, I offer three ideas that might be useful in finding some common ground regarding our otherwise contentious energy challenges. Coming from the perspective of a longtime advocate for clean energy, and one who has spoken out on the cost of burning fossil fuels, these ideas might seem unorthodox, but perhaps that’s what we need right now.

Oil Is Beautiful: It may come as a shock to my friends that I, a vocal champion of all things solar and wind, would say this, but there is no denying the truth — oil is a wonderfully unique substance. It is incredibly energy intensive and has a very high energy-profit ratio, so it makes a great transportation fuel. It has been fairly easy to find, recover and transport, at least until now.

And oil forms the foundation of the entire chemical food chain that supports our modern industrial society. There is hardly a product made today, from clothing to cars to electronics, that does not use in significant ways the millions of miraculous materials that are synthesized from oil.

The Oil Supply Is Limited and We Have to Learn to Sustain It: We waste oil in prodigious amounts, burning it in wildly inefficient vehicles and ignoring its future value as a feedstock for millions of products from pharmaceuticals to advanced electronics. If you love oil, why not help figure out a way not to waste its black beauty? Why don’t those who support oil and those who have been warning of the dangers of burning it with abandon get together and figure out ways not to waste it?

The Chinese Are On to Us When It Comes to Oil: We are not the only ones who have figured out that oil is an amazing liquid; the Chinese have joined the rest of the developing world in an obsession with the stuff. The most dangerous place in China today is in front of the door of a new car dealership showroom. The number of cars in Beijing has doubled in three years as throngs of newly minted middle-class Chinese rush into the white-line fever of the car culture and become addicted to the needle of oil in the process.

What happens when the irresistible force of Chinese oil demand runs into the immovable object of peak oil production? The price of oil goes up dramatically, just as it is now. Congress can repeal many laws, but it cannot repeal the law of supply and demand. Neither can all the speeches about “all of the above energy” repeal a stark geologic fact: We don’t have the domestic oil reserves to have an appreciable effect on oil prices. Nor will “drill, baby, drill” make us energy independent. We burn 25 percent of the world’s oil but have only 2 percent to 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves, tops.

If there are any doubts about how rising Chinese demand and limited oil supplies will drive up the price of oil, take a look at oil economist expert Jeff Rubin’s recent best-seller, “Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller.” Rubin’s work describes in stark detail how limited our options are in regard to future oil production compared to demand.

So let’s come together and find a new reason to reduce our waste of this precious crude, not only out of a desire to save the planet, but out of a real respect for its value. Let’s find a way to power our cars without it, not out of our distaste for oil, but out of our recognition of what it can do for us in the future. In doing so, we save consumers’ dollars at the pump and create new, homegrown manufacturing jobs across our country. I believe that Americans are ready for us to find common ground.

Now that’s healing worth talking about.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee and is co-chairman of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition. Inslee is the co-author of “Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy.”

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