Eliot Engel on Energy Security
By Bill Moore
Eight-term Congressman Eliot Engel (NY-D) is about as outspoken on America's floundering energy policy as they come. You have but to visit his Congressional web site and read through the electronic stack of press releases his office has issued over the last few years to appreciate his disappointment and frustration with both the Republican White House and Congress' response to national energy policy. Here’s some of the juicier headlines:
"Energy Bill Bad for the Environment"
"Bush Administration Environmental Policy Leaving Legacy of Toxic Waste".
"Bush's Awful Energy Policy Ripping Off New Yorkers at the Gas Pump".
While 'bashing' Bush is considered fair game in Washington politics -- just like 'castigating' Clinton was in the previous Administration -- Congressman Engel is also willing to reach across the aisle when it comes to issues of national security. He and New Jersey Congressman Jim Saxton, a Republican, recently joined forces to create the Oil and National Security Caucus to raise awareness on Capitol Hill of the urgent need to reduce America's dependence on oil.
EV World caught Congressman Engel near the end of a long day. Our planned 30-minute interview was cut short to just 10-minutes due to his hectic schedule, but in that time he explained the purpose of the caucus and his views on America's energy future.
He told EV World that he and Congressman Saxton, "believe that national security is intrinsically tied up with U.S. energy policy. You cannot any longer say that we have an energy policy that's over here and a national security policy that is over there, and they're not connected.
"I strongly believe that the issue of national security, oil and alternative methods of energy are bipartisan issues and that's why I think a caucus is so appropriate to do this".
He sees the mission of the caucus as first of all raising awareness that the way we now view energy and national security is different than the way we viewed it in the 20th century when the nation was an oil exporter for the first 70 years of that century.
"We thought oil was cheap and plentiful and we never had to worry about it. We now know it isn't cheap nor plentiful anymore; and we rely on these unstable Middle Eastern regimes that aid and abet terrorism, many of them… and we think that is dangerous to the national security of the United States".
Beyond raising awareness, he also sees the caucus fulfilling an educational role, perhaps having speakers come in to brief caucus members, as well as authoring legislation and shepherding it through Congress.
Everything On the Table
Engel has, in the past, not supported ethanol and had reservations about nuclear power and wind. He now says that he's willing to put "everything on the table" for reconsideration. While he hastened to add that he doesn't endorse nuclear power or ethanol, he is willing to take another look at them and other alternative energy systems.
"I think that when we look at a new energy policy, we need to put everything on the table. So, I would not rule out anything"…
Anything except increasing the federal tax on gasoline, which even automotive executives like Toyota's Jim Press are in favor of raising it at a rate of 10 cents a year in order to encourage greater conservation.
Representative Engel was adamant that Congress has no appetite for increasing the tax on gasoline in the wake hurricane-related price hikes, seeing it as placing an "undue burden on the public" at this time.
"I think when gasoline was cheaper some people had talked about that, and I think that was a proposal that merited some discussion, but I think now it would be very, very difficult to do it.
"As far as CAFE standards, I am all in favor of increasing CAFE standards. I know that Detroit is not for it, but we do have the technology to make more energy-efficient cars and that is part of the new energy policy for the twenty-first century. We have the technology to make these cars more efficient. You know, we should be giving all kinds of tax breaks, incentives for people to buy hybrid cars, for automakers to make hybrid cars. We ought to do those kinds of things to encourage people to drive more… fuel efficient cars. These are some of the things we can do."
He emphasized that energy policy needs to include many different options, not just one or two.
"We need to move in every direction".
He noted that energy policy is one area where there is broad, bipartisan agreement.
"We all understand that energy policy for America in the twenty-first century and beyond means a radical shift".
For him, when the price of gasoline at the pump spiked two days after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, it was obvious that oil companies were taking advantage of the situation. He has characterized them as the "big looters" in the tragedy that was Katrina. He said he's not against people making money, but not at the expense of other people's misery.
"The bottom line is, we need to wean ourselves off of Middle Eastern oil and we need to look at renewables and alternative ways to get our energy".
So what kind of car does Congressman Engel drive? An American-made, five-year old, six cylinder Chrysler Concord. When he's ready to trade it in, he said he plans to buy something smaller and more fuel efficient.
All too soon, he had to move on to his next appointment, but not before leaving the door open for EV World to interview him again. You can be sure, we'll take him up on that offer.