Congressional group plans for oil's decline

by Brett Wilkison

Within the next 20 years, worldwide oil production will likely peak and no longer meet demand (HCN, 12/12/05: Final Energy Frontier). Now, some members of Congress are saying we need to prepare for life after that point.

"We are going to peak, and we should be planning for it, and we’re not," says Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. Last year’s energy bill, he says, amounted to denial on this issue: The bill dumped most of its $80 billion into non-renewable energy sources, such as oil, natural gas and coal.

In October, Udall and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., formed the Congressional Peak Oil Caucus to begin discussing preparations for a post-peak world. The caucus’s nine members include two other Western representatives, Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz. They have asked fellow representatives to sponsor a resolution supporting a national energy initiative to "accelerate the transition to renewable fuels and a sustainable, clean energy economy." The scale of such an undertaking is comparable, Tom Udall says, to "sending man to the moon."

So far, a bipartisan group of 18 of the House’s 435 members has signed on. Passing the resolution requires a majority vote, which would signal the House’s intent to work seriously on peak oil issues. Tom Udall and other representatives have introduced related legislation, including a nationwide renewable energy requirement for utilities.

Reducing the oil consumed by transportation is also crucial, because it accounts for 70 percent of the country’s annual oil use, says Steve Andrews, co-founder of the nonprofit Association for the Study of Peak Oil-U.S.A. Short-term fixes include significantly improving fuel efficiency in cars and light trucks, and switching to trains for long-distance shipping, he says; long-term solutions include a transition to renewable biofuels and pluggable hybrid-electric vehicles.

Time is tight, notes Tom Udall: "Many experts believe that even 10 years is not enough to plan for the arrival of peak oil." The issue should be key in the 2008 presidential campaign, he says: "Imagine the effect of a president saying this is one of the central challenges of our time."

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