Retired military generals call for U.S. to decrease oil use

A group of retired military generals are calling for a 30 percent drop in U.S. oil use over 10 years by diversifying fuels and boosting efficiency to protect the economy from long-term supply disruptions and improve national security.

A report by the Center for Naval Analyses, a federally-funded research group, finds a 30 percent drop in oil use in the next 10 years would insulate the U.S. economy from a 30-day supply shock, “even in the event of a complete shutdown of a strategic chokepoint like the Strait of Hormuz, the international passageway for 33 percent of the world’s seaborne oil shipments.”

“We have seen oil shocks before. And they have been immediate and far reaching. But at today’s level of U.S. consumption, a sustained disruption would be devastating — crippling our very freedom of movement,” said retired Gen. Paul Kern, who chairs the CNA Military Advisory Board, a group of retired three- and four-star generals that studies national-security issues. “Our enemies know this fact, and they exploit it at will.”

The nation’s oil use reduces the country’s foreign policy options, the generals said in their report, noting that it is “no small concern as Middle East uprisings continue and dangerous regimes work to develop nuclear weapons.”

Reducing oil use by 30 percent would “expand our foreign policy options, because our thirst for oil would no longer tether us as tightly to certain unreliable partners,” the report says. “It would help our military engagements, improve our flexibility and increase our leverage among our allies.”

The generals will formally unveil the report at briefings on Capitol Hill today.

They call for meeting the 30 percent target by boosting fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks and by boosting tax incentives and research for fuel-saving technologies.

They said they support any effort on the part of the government to strengthen fuel-economy standards, because they “have proven to be effective at increasing efficiency and reducing the use of oil.”

President Barack Obama in July unveiled a proposal, reached through negotiations with 13 auto makers, to double fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are expected to issue a formal proposal this month.

The administration has also finalized tougher fuel-efficiency and greenhouse-gas standards for medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks and buses made between 2014 and 2018.

The U.S. consumed 13.5 million barrels of oil for transportation each day in 2010, according to the U.S. Transportation Department, equating to about 5 billion barrels for the year. The Obama administration expects the fuel-economy standards for passenger cars and light-duty trucks to save 12 billion barrels over the life of the program, from 2017 to 2025.

The report says some level of decrease in oil use can occur with individual actions like carpooling.

“These adjustments may seem, to many like substantial lifestyle changes or difficult economic choices—we see them as steps that make America more secure,” the generals wrote in the report.

The report also suggests expanding the types of transportation fuels the U.S. uses, though they don’t endorse any specific alternative fuels. Among the ones they say warrant consideration are natural gas, electricity, biofuels and hydrogen, but they add each faces challenges for becoming commercially available.

Diversifying fuels could even help the military do its job, the generals said.

“Our goal is for a military that is light, fast, and expeditionary,” they wrote. “If future alternative fuels can help take us there, so much the better.”

The generals also point to increased domestic production of oil as a way of reducing foreign reliance on oil and give the U.S. more “diplomatic leverage.” By some estimates, the U.S. spends almost $1 billion a day on oil imports. “The two need not present a conflict,” the report says.

The generals warn against simply substituting domestic production for reduced foreign imports, citing how global oil markets work.

“Simply replacing foreign with domestic oil without reducing consumption does not reduce the national security and economic risks associated with a global oil market that is vulnerable to manipulation and disruption,” they wrote in the report.