Robert Kennedy Jr.: This is the beginning of the end
In 2004, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote a national best seller, "Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush And His Corporate Pals Are Plundering The Country And Hijacking Our Democracy." In the book, he charged there is a "cozy relationship" between the White House and the energy industry.
Kennedy is the chief prosecutor for Hudson Riverkeeper in New York and an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He is on the faculty of Pace Law School in New York. Kennedy co-hosts "Ring of Fire" with Pensacola attorney Mike Papantonio on Air America Radio (www.ringoffireradio.com).
He talked with News Journal staff writer Lynette Wilson about oil supply, prices and fuel efficiency.
Q: Why are gas prices so high?
A: Supply is hitting a plateau and demand is increasing dramatically. China's entrance as a world player also has had an effect. Within 10 years we will hit peak supply -- the point where you've used up more than half of the reserves in existence. From then on, the amount of petroleum declines and prices go sky-high. It's the beginning of the end of the petroleum-based economy.
Q: So it's actually a supply problem, not just an issue with refineries?
A: There's a bottleneck also with refining capacity, according to the industry. A declining oil supply is escalating the problem.
Q: What should we be doing?
A: Shifting away from petroleum-based economy. And there are a lot of reasons to do that. (One is) national security. We are buying Hummers over here and financing al-Qaida (through oil purchases from the Middle East). Our dependence on foreign oil wrecks our balance of payments. If we reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we insulate ourselves from price shocks, improve our balance of payments and improve our competitiveness in the world economy.
Q: What about raising vehicle fuel-economy standards?
A: If we raise average fuel economy standards by 1 mile per gallon (we're at an average of 20 mpg now), we can yield more oil than what is in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. If fuel-economy standards were raised by 7.6 mpg, we could eliminate 100 percent of Persian Gulf oil imports. Think of what that would do for our country. In 1986, we almost eliminated Gulf oil. If Reagan hadn't rolled back corporate average fuel economy standards, we wouldn't be dependent on Gulf oil now.
(In his book, Kennedy writes, "In 1979, President Carter implemented 'corporate average fuel economy' or CAFE standards that encouraged carmakers to make more fuel-efficient cars." In 1986, President Reagan rolled back the standards.)
Q: What should politicians be doing?
A: Voting for fuel-efficiency standards. The $80 million in checkbook diplomacy between Detroit and Washington, D.C., has dimmed the appetite for fuel-economy standards. There are no CAFE standards in the new energy bill. This White House has tax deductions for Hummers and the biggest sport utility vehicles. There are incentives to use more fuel. It's insane policy.
Plus, we give $55 billion a year in subsidies that allow oil companies to reduce the price of gasoline. In Europe they pay $5 per gallon for gasoline. If Americans were paying $5 at the pump, Americans would be screaming for fuel efficiency.
Q: Why hasn't it happened here?
A: The two principal spokes of our government are broken. Large corporations are running the government. The press is broken and is not covering these issues. Americans are the best-entertained and least-informed people. If people understood CAFE standards, they would demand them.
Q: What will make it happen?
A: Consumers aren't going to do it. The human mind can be influenced by propaganda. You have Detroit spending millions to advertise SUVs. You don't need these SUVs to drive around Pensacola, but profit margins are $10,000 on SUVs, compared with $1,200 on a sedan. Fuel prices have to go so high that no one is willing to drive.
Q: What do you think of gas-electric hybrid vehicles?
A: Well, it's great to be able to fill up your car for 20 bucks and drive 400 miles, rather than watch that meter on the pump go up to $46 on a minivan.
Q: What do you drive?
A: A (hybrid) Toyota Prius.