In remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations on 1 December, Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) called for the US and China to cooperate on energy policies and technologies to help avoid potential conflict in the future.
The senator urged the expansion of the U.S.-China Energy Policy Dialogue established in 2004 to encourage the development of alternative fuels and vehicles that are powered by energy sources other than gasoline, with particular emphasis on plug-in hybrids.
It is time the US and China not only recognize the similarity of our oil dependency status, and the direction that competition may take us, but begin to talk more directly about this growing global competition for oil so that we can each develop national policies and cooperative international policies—even joint research and development projects—to cut our dependency on oil before the competition becomes truly hostile.
The U.S.-China energy engagement that I foresee could be, in one sense, the 21st Century version of what arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union were in the last century.
But we’ve got to start those discussions before the race for oil becomes as hot and dangerous as the nuclear arms race between the US and the Soviet Union did in the last century.
I’d point out what I think is a fortuitous difference in these two races, if you will. With arms control, we were focused on reducing dangers by destroying weapons systems.
Here, we have a chance to reduce dangers by separately and jointly building new energy and transportation systems based on alternative fuels and new technologies to power our vehicles.
The US can and should make concrete proposals for joint projects with China which would break both nations’ dependence on foreign oil, or would help break both nations’ dependence on foreign oil. And as the world’s two biggest consumers of oil, again it makes sense that we work together on this.
But in the meantime, the US has a responsibility to take our own steps to get our own appetite for oil under control. Because our national security—not to mention our economic well being and environmental health—require that we do that.—Sen. Joe Lieberman
Lieberman recently co-sponsored with nine other senators a bill—“Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act of 2005” (S. 2025)—that mandates a reduction in America’s oil consumption by 10 million barrels per day within 25 years and require that 10 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States be hybrid, hybrid-electric plug-in, alternative fuel or biofuel vehicles by 2012. (Earlier post.) He used the China speech to underscore once again the potential for plug-in hybrids.
Let me talk about the new technologies which are out there—they’re not exotic—including not just the hybrids, for which there are waiting lines at most car dealerships today, but for alternative fuels and hybrid electric plug-ins.
Electricity, a sector that relies on oil to fuel just two percent of its output, could further lower our oil dependence if we use it to power our cars.
When I first heard about this it sounded impractical—I was about to use the un-Senatorial term “flaky”—but we’re all plugging in our cell phones and our blackberries every night. And we can get to the point where we are plugging in our cars as well at a time of day when the demand on the electricity grid is lower and again, most of that electric power is not produced by oil.
This can lead to some really exciting options that are practical. Plug-in hybrid vehicles that I’ve talked about would be able to use their batteries exclusively for the first 30 miles of a trip.While Americans drive about 2.2 trillion miles a year, the vast majority of those trips are less than 10 miles. That means a plug-in hybrid would use zero gallons of gasoline—or any other combustible fuel—for the vast majority of car trips that are made.
Lieberman called specifically for sharing US work on biofuels and alternative vehicles—such as plug-ins—with China.
We should expand the U.S.-China Policy Dialogue, established last year with a Memorandum of Understanding between our two nations last year, to specifically create joint programs for the kinds of new vehicles and new fuels that I’ve talked about.
For instance, as we work to turn our idle cropland into new fuels, why not share that knowledge and capability with the Chinese, and why not ask that they do the same for some of the steps that they are beginning to take for energy diversity and independence.
Let’s also specifically work with them on alternative automobile technologies, while we have this window of time, before millions and millions of new Chinese drivers hit the roads in gas-guzzling, gas-only vehicles.