National Security, Energy Security, and a Low Carbon Fuel Standard

The principal aim of a low carbon fuel standard is improving environmental quality by reducing the carbon content of transportation fuels. However, proponents of this approach also claim the standard will encourage the development and use of new kinds of transportation fuels to displace imported petroleum. Reducing imports is said to improve U.S. national and energy security by decreasing dependence on volatile regions and hostile governments.

A reduction in imports will not produce the national security benefits sought. The interconnectedness of the world’s energy marketplace, and indeed, the global economy, prevent the kind of insulation from perturbations in the price of oil desired by advocates of energy independence. The United States will remain vulnerable to oil price and supply shocks regardless of fluctuations in its imports so long as it trades with countries that purchase petroleum off the world market. A sharp rise in prices that undermines the economic health of Europe or China, for example, will negatively impact the U.S. economy. Further, U.S. national interests in the Middle East, whose instability is most commonly cited as justification for reducing oil imports, are more complex than the simple consumption of petroleum. Concerns about terrorism, the security of Israel, the peace process, global and regional power projection, and international leadership all suggest that continued engagement will be the norm for the U.S. for years to come, regardless of oil import patterns.

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