WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush aptly described America's insatiable appetite for oil as an "addiction." My old Webster's Dictionary defines the word as an "obsessive dependence" and offers as examples: "drugs, alcohol and gambling." Oil isn't mentioned -- but mine is an early 1970's edition -- printed before the 1973 Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries oil-embargo, Jimmy Carter, and tax deductions for installing roof-top solar panels. Neither Webster nor Mr. Bush point out that in order to "feed their habit," addicts must pay out mountains of cold hard cash to very unsavory characters who are often as deadly as the addiction itself. That's always been the case with heroin or crack and today it's increasingly true of petroleum.
The cold, hard cash outlay has become astronomical. Last week, the government announced that the U.S. trade deficit widened to a record $726 billion in 2005 -- more than $251 billion of that in oil imports. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the cost of petroleum imports climbed 39 percent -- about the same rise we experienced in 2004.
But it's not just a more costly product -- demand has surged as well. In 1973, the United States imported 28 percent of its oil. A decade later that figure had jumped to 35 percent, and by 1993 we were bringing in 44 percent. Today, we import more than 58 percent of the oil we use. If demand continues to grow at current rates -- and no significant domestic alternatives are found or developed -- the United States will have to import an estimated 70 percent of its oil by 2025. And that is a national-security nightmare -- for just as drug cartels use "coke cash" to kill, many of the recipients of our petro-dollars have taken aim at the heart of America.
With the exception of Canada and Mexico, nearly all of the "oil exporters" have either unstable regimes, dictatorships, terror connections or governments that are outright hostile toward the United States Some, like Venezuela and Iran, could fit in the category: "all of the above." Despite promises of "transparency" in Mid-East financial flows since Sept. 11, there is still no way to track how much oil money is being sent to Hamas, Hizbollah or al-Qaeda. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, awash in U.S. petro-dollars, is now able to fund a "Bolivarian Army" and spread Marxist ideology. The Iranians are employing their windfall "oil-Euros" to build nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them. Because we have developed so few alternatives to imported fuel, every time we flip on the lights, put gas in our tanks or touch a thermostat -- we're helping those who hate us.
Last August, when President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act, he said the goal was "strengthening America's electrical infrastructure, reducing the country's dependence on foreign sources of energy, increasing conservation and expanding the use of clean renewable energy." And yet, despite his observation that, "when you're dependent upon natural gas and/or hydrocarbons to fuel your economy and that supply gets disrupted, we need alternative sources of energy," progress has been painfully slow in addressing what should be seen as a vital national-security concern.
Though federal funds have been made available for fuel-cell technology and Ethanol production research and development, little else is happening to reduce our dependence on foreign fuel. Exploration for new domestic sources of oil and gas are still met with lawsuits from radical environmental groups. No new refineries have been built in the United States for three decades. There are still no new orders for U.S. nuclear power plants -- which produce zero harmful emissions -- nor have there been since 1978. The last nuclear plant to go online, Watts Bar 1, in Tennessee, was completed in 1997.
France, China, Japan and Russia have no such reservations and continue building nuclear power plants to produce electricity. To our south, Brazil, a nation of 186 million and a land mass slightly less than the United States, already has two nuclear plants producing 4 percent of its energy needs, and a third plant is under construction.
U.S. politicians and media elites preoccupied with Vice President Cheney's hunting skills may have failed to notice the announcement last week that Brazil will soon bring online the capability of producing enough enriched uranium to meet all of their own energy needs -- and to export the material as well. Next-door neighbor Hugo Chavez, sporting his trademark red beret, applauded the announcement, noting that the nuclear fuel capability creates "further independence from the imperialists" -- meaning, of course, the United States. Last month he advocated construction of a pipeline system to carry Venezuelan and Bolivian natural gas -- not to the United States -- but to the rest of the region.
The full measure of our strategic vulnerability isn't just the price at the pump -- sure to go up in the spring. We must invest not only in new technologies to power our vehicles -- but new exploration for, and exploitation of, hydrocarbon fuels as well. Investment needs to be encouraged in economical processes for cleaning coal, our most abundant fossil fuel. And approval for new nuclear power plants is an absolute necessity. All of this needs to be part of a national energy independence policy -- one that not only protects our environment -- but stops us from fueling our enemies' engines.