Peak Oil News: Robert Kennedy Jr.: This is the beginning of the end

Monday, September 19, 2005

Robert Kennedy Jr.: This is the beginning of the end

The Pensacola News Journal

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 (

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.


At 4:09 AM, September 20, 2005, Blogger Ron said...

The statistic that raising the average fuel consumption by 7.6 mpg would eliminate Persian Gulf oil imports really surprised me. Is there another source that backs up this statement?

At 12:06 PM, September 20, 2005, Blogger Tim said...

Detroit is as much to blame as washington for huge vehicles. Why doesn't detroit make it's own fuel effecient cars and trucks? The Japanese are going to bankrupt detroit, because Detroit will not make their own product. Ford has to pay Toyota to market the Escape hybrid, because Ford is stupid. Dodge is still advertizing the hemi, because they don't have anything better, despite being owned by the Germans. Dumb.

At 9:21 AM, September 21, 2005, Blogger Gregory said...

Three points:

First, it's disengenuous to blame just Detroit for SUVs. People should be free to buy whichever car they want. SUVs are more expensive, and they are more expensive to fill up with gas. As the price of gas increases, the incentive to buy SUVs will go down. Additionally, Ford and Toyota/Lexus now offer SUV hybrids, which achieve RFKJ's goal of an extra 1mpg.

Second, he is mistaken about the incentives for Hummers. Those were removed in the energy bill. In fact, great tax credis (up to $3500) have replaced the existing tax deductions (subtract $2000 from your salary). This will have a huge impact in the next year.

Finally, Americans pay market rate prices for gasoline. The prices in Europe are artificially higher for two reasons: they have no native oil supplies and many countries have super high taxes to reduce demand. I hope RFKJ isn't suggesting higher taxes on gas, which are extremely regressive and hit the poor and working class the hardest.

At 3:55 PM, September 26, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gas taxes are a really good idea when coupled with policy that redistributes wealth from rich to poor. Taxing gas is a much better way to reduce consumption than demanding increased efficiency standards.


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