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This Fourth of July, let’s declare our independence — from oil

Ahhhh, the Fourth of July: a day filled with family, fireworks and firing up the grill. No other holiday on the calendar brings Americans together in quite the same way. Because on this day, we have a common history – no matter your religion, ethnicity, or gender. After all, it’s when regular people joined together, took a stand, and declared themselves free and independent from what was holding them back.

Each year on the Fourth of July we celebrate the power of a big idea. We also reflect on what we’ve been through, where we’re going, and what still needs to be fixed. And right now, what needs fixing can seem overwhelming: the struggling economy, lost jobs and family pocketbooks under pressure, and an expensive, insecure, and dirty energy system. We can’t fix it all in one day. But, 235 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed and sealed, the time is right for another big idea, one that will boost Minnesota’s economy and create jobs for families that need them. It’s time to declare our independence from oil.

This Fourth of July, let’s face the reality – and extreme cost – of our oil dependence head on. It’s a fact: Oil is getting more expensive, dangerous and risky to find. Oil companies run by foreign governments now control a huge fraction of the world’s remaining oil reserves. And 50 to 70 percent of the oil reserves left for private investment are in Canada’s tar sands, the dirtiest and lowest grade oil on Earth. In Minnesota, we’re uniquely dependent on this dirty oil. In fact, we get over 80 percent of our oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, through a destructive process that creates bleak landscapes where forests once flourished. Not that drilling for oil is any better – it hasn’t been that long since we were horrified by images of oil-soaked beaches in the Gulf.

Is this really the best America can do?

The truth of the matter is that while we hesitate, the geology of the Earth has already decided the issue for us – we have run out of cheap and accessible oil. To hang on to the status quo, we have only a list of evils to choose from: dangerous and inefficient deepwater drilling, risking the fragile lands of Alaska’s nature preserves, growing even more dependent on unstable and hostile countries, or destroying vast landscapes in Canada. And eventually, we’ll destroy ourselves trying to find the last few drops.

Let’s kick oil addiction to the curb
We can do better. Let’s harness what has always made America great – independence, innovation, and hard work – and kick our oil addiction to the curb. Why would we wait? Better fuels, cars that run on electricity, strong and affordable transit, high-speed trains – technologies like these will put us on the road toward energy independence and a leadership position in clean power, the next major worldwide industry. The benefits for Minnesotans will be substantial: new business for our weak economy, advanced technology that keeps our manufacturing local, and new jobs for families that need them. Kicking our oil habit is as American as apple pie, and it embodies the good, old-fashioned American values that you and I celebrate this time of year: responsibility, thrift, entrepreneurship, care for the next generation of Americans and what they’ll inherit, and respect for the natural world.

As 1776, failure is simply not an option. We can’t sit idly by as the last barrels of dirty oil become more and more expensive and dangerous to find, and American families are even more bogged down by an energy system that’s out of step with reality.

So this Fourth of July, let’s join together, take a stand, and declare ourselves free and independent from oil.

Jenna Hartwig Wade is a communications specialist at Fresh Energy. Fresh Energy promotes laws and rules to create an energy system that sustains our economies, human health, and the environment. Through advocacy, research, and collaboration, it promotes laws to fight global warming, make clean energy more available, and provide people less polluting, more efficient transportation options.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/02/2011 - 05:13 am.

    Jenna joins the last several Presidents in proposing oil independence with no real plan to get there.
    There is no better fuel than the products of the oil refinery, especially not the output of the giant corn stills that dot our countryside. Electric driven public transit will help, but her Fresh Energy and others don’t like the nuclear power that can replace coal to provide the electricity. Wind and solar will remain low single digit contributors.
    Petroleum is concentrated buried sunshine that in addition to transportation is the feed stock for hundreds of essential products, including plastics, building materials, fertilizers, medicines, etc.
    Jenna forgot to offer the serious energy taxes that will encourage conservation and provide the funds for energy efficient public transport.
    If Jenna and others would like more information they can attend my fall quarter class, “Peak Oil and Peak Water” in the U of MN Lifelong Learning program.

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/04/2011 - 09:55 am.

    Mr. Westgard makes an excellent point about the cost of energy and how it relates to consumption.

    Price is a function of demand, not cost.
    Only by reducing demand will price fall.

    If America wants the world price of oil to be cheaper, it should raise the tax on US gasoline by $.05/month for the next 48 months.

    The price of oil will drop like a stone.

    By increasing gasoline taxes, you:

    Reduce demand for oil, and therefore the market clearing price.

    Reduce a trade imbalance problem;
    reduce the deficit.

    Reduce America’s exposure to unstable autocratic governments.

    Reduce pressure on America’s armed forces, and on the defense budget.

    Start to internalize the negative externalities of the oil industry.

    Spur innovation in conservation and in alternate energy sources.

    Reduce the taxation cross-subsidy of those who waste energy by those who don’t.

    Reducing the US tax on oil would merely be a windfall to the oil producing nations, and a further subsidy to the oil industry, as they would have more room to capture the tax room yielded by government to charge higher prices – and all of the tax forgone to be paid for with more borrowing to be dumped on our children and grandchildren.

    America has spent roughly $2T since September 11, 2001 subsidizing the oil industry through the defense budget.

    That’s way more than enough.

    America does not need lower oil prices.
    America very badly needs much higher oil prices.

    In the end, America’s economy and body politic would be far healthier.

    Increasing taxes on oil, a lot, would solve many American problems.

  3. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/04/2011 - 04:16 pm.

    Well stated, Richard. As I recall President Carter proposed to increase gas taxes by 20 cents a year for three years. He was voted out of office. Unfortunately the public likes politicians with easy solutions and the short term benefit of lower taxes. Gov. Pawlenty is fully aware of this.

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