Taxpayers and the True Price of Oil

NPP Pressroom

Political Affairs Magazine
Peter Zerner and Joel Wendland

The US government spends as much as $215 billion each year on military action globally to defend Big Oil's access to petroleum reserves around the globe in order to feed our addiction to oil, according to a new analysis published this week by the National Priorities Project (NPP), titled "The Military Cost of Securing Energy." The report estimates that the cost of defending access to petroleum products totals as much as 30 percent of the Pentagon budget annually. The NPP report concludes that US military policy and the wars we are currently engaged in are directly linked to the pursuit of energy resources. The report also concludes that real national and energy security is, on the other hand, just as clearly linked to the ability of the United States to achieve energy independence by means of the rapid development of renewable, non-fossil fuel sources of energy. Achieving this goal will immeasurably improve the outlook for world peace, particularly in the volatile Middle East. It will also free up much-needed money from the incredibly bloated military budget for investments in green jobs, infrastructure, and renewable energy at home. As the NPP report states, "If we are to decrease our global military footprint and reduce the potential for future conflict, we must decrease our dependence on non-renewable energy supplies. This must coincide with a national campaign for a significant and sustained investment in clean, renewable energy and conservation." The rapid development of renewable energy sources will quickly lead to the creation of hundreds of thousands of sustainable, good-paying jobs, which cannot be outsourced. This is particularly true for young people who will now have viable career alternatives and no longer be forced to choose what is far too often the only employment option open to many working-class youth: military enlistment to defend Big Oil's interests abroad. The study's authors, economist Anita Dancs and NPP researchers Suzanne Smith and Mary Orisich, emphasize that the report's conclusions are estimates based on "the global pursuit of energy by the federal government and the US military." The figures they provide are not entirely conclusive because "the military budget isn't broken down by mission or region of the world, so it isn't obvious at all how many resources are devoted to securing access to and the transport of energy," said Dancs in a press statement. Still, there is no doubt that the military's role in securing the drive for oil is an extremely costly proposition for US taxpayers, but one that is seldom, if ever, discussed publicly. "Clearly," as Jo Comerford, executive director of NPP said of this groundbreaking study, "the road to energy independence must take into account the military cost of securing energy. The US military spends billions of tax dollars to secure global fossil fuels, dollars that could be used to develop renewable energy sources that won't ever run out or cause wars and global conflict. This is news for most people." To accompany the report, NPP has provided a helpful online calculator that allows readers to compare the cost of pursuing and defending oil by military means to the cost of investing in energy independence. The calculator breaks the costs down state by state. For example, the NPP estimates that Michigan and Virginia taxpayers will pay $2.8 billion next year for Pentagon efforts to help oil companies gain access to overseas petroleum reserves. Colorado and Indiana residents can expect to fork over $1.6 billion, while Floridians and Ohioans will pump in between $3 and $6 billion. The NPP report examines the basic conflict between the enormous costs of the current military budget and America's critical need for energy independence. The fundamental opposition between genuine energy independence and all of the blood and money wasted on military actions abroad, however, is something John McCain, Sarah Palin and the rest of the right-wing ideologues fail to recognize. At the Republican Party convention in September, the world caught a glimpse of how the GOP sees these issues when the delegates erupted into boisterous chants of "Drill, Baby, Drill!" this mindless chant is a a symptom of the right wing's refusal to face economic and environmental reality. It also brings into sharp focus the main capitalist interests behind the Republican Party: the military-industrial complex and Big Oil, both of whom stand to profit mightily from disregarding conclusions like those found in this NPP report. While the NPP report speaks with the undeniable voice of reason, it should be noted that Big Oil has diverted considerable revenue into shady PACs like the deceptively named American Solutions for Winning the Future headed by Newt Gingrich. Gingrich's petroleum-based "527" group has lobbied hard for lifting the ban on offshore drilling, despite universal agreement that doing so is environmentally hazardous and will not impact the price of gasoline for any foreseeable future. It also needs to be kept in mind that while the US and all of its available oil reserves on land or under water make up only a meager three percent of the world's energy supply, scientists who study global warming are warning that we are already standing on the carbon emissions threshold. If we cross that threshold, they say, the disastrous effects of climate change will become irreversible. For the future of our country and the entire planet, we urgently need a new energy policy that will end our dependence on fossilized fuel and consign the money-guzzling Pentagon budget, like the dinosaur, to history.