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Oil Promises

Check for airborne pork -- I'm about to point out that something Bush said isn't as bad as it looks.

The big story about the State of the Union has been Bush's promise to reduce imports of Middle Eastern oil by 75%. This cheered many environmentalists as matter of agenda-setting, despite the recognition that the actual amount of reduction in Bush's plan is piddling. But now we learn that Bush didn't quite mean what he said:

One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.

What the president meant, they said in a conference call with reporters, was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025.

Environmentalists are upset. But I don't think there's any reason to be. The change from "reduce oil imports from the Middle East by 75%" and "reduce oil imports by an amount equivalent to 75% of what we get from the Middle East" makes no difference from an environmental perspective. Oil is oil, and reducing our consumption of it will have the same effect regardless of where the remaining oil comes from.

Indeed, because the oil market is global, it's hard to see how we could meaningfully target Middle Eastern oil for reductions. Sure, we could shift around so that the oil that actually enters the US comes all from Canada and Venezuela. But that would just mean that Middle Eastern oil would shift around to fill in the reductions in supply to those countries' other customers. So even if Middle Eastern oil were somehow dirtier than Canadian oil, the same amount of Middle Eastern oil would be getting burned, and thus the same amount of greenhouse gasses would be released. The only thing that matters is the overall supply and demand.

I don't for a minute believe that Bush will actually reduce our oil consumption by 75% of our Middle Eastern imports. And I suppose this correction will provide another entry in those lists of Bush's lies that have been oh so successful in changing the minds of Bush's supporters. But from an environmental perspective, this correction does not change the substance of Bush's promise.


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