June 28, 2006

Schumer: Establish Agency To Cut Oil Imports, Boost Alternatives

By: by Michael Virtanen, Associated Press Writer


ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York Sen. Charles Schumer called Friday for a federal effort, like those that launched the Internet and space flight, to develop alternative energy technology and cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil in half within a decade.

"Right now we are playing Russian Roulette with our energy future," Schumer said Friday, "and our energy future is our total future."
Calling his proposal "the Manhattan Project," Schumer has drafted legislation to create a new independent federal agency that would support both basic and applied research with $83 billion over 10 years. During World War II, the secret Manhattan Project led to U.S. development of the atomic bomb in a race against German scientists.

"Every year we bleed at the wrist," Schumer told business and state officials at an energy symposium at the State University of New York at Albany. The U.S. spends billions of dollars annually on foreign oil, often from regimes America doesn't like, and White House policy continues that dependence on fossil fuel while global oil demand is growing, he said.

"Make no mistake, this weakens us," Schumer said. He's trying to make his approach both Democratic Party policy and national policy. Most funding for a new National Energy Efficiency Development Administration would be realized from ending more than $5 billion of annual oil company tax breaks backed by the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress. Schumer heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Schumer and many other Senate Democrats have been obstructing an energy bill and blocking responsible drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for four years. "They have been part of the problem and not the solution when it comes to lowering our dependency on foreign sources of oil," he said.

While it was justifiable to subsidize oil companies' drilling for new wells when oil cost $20 a barrel, it's not at $70 a barrel, Schumer said. The agency would be charged with reducing U.S. imports of foreign oil by 5 percent by 2008, 20 percent by 2011 and 50 percent by 2015. It would take over related Energy Department and Transportation Department functions, including setting vehicle fuel economy standards.

"We're ready to introduce the bill in the next few weeks," Schumer said.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York's other Democratic senator, last month called for a similar 50 percent cut in U.S. dependence on oil imports with a 20-year timetable, calling for ethanol-based fuel and a $50 billion research fund.

According to the recent figures from the government's Energy Information Administration, the United States imports more than 13 million barrels of oil a day. That figure is forecast to rise to more than 15 million barrels by 2025.

President Bush has called for cutting 75 percent of oil from the Middle East by that time.