Derrick Z. Jackson

United States must break the addiction to foreign oil

By Derrick Z. Jackson
Globe Columnist / February 26, 2011

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UNREST CONTINUES to spread, from the Middle East to the Middle West to . . . the gas pump.

The democracy uprisings against repressive regimes, many of which America propped up, has also fanned fears for the flow of oil. In response, Big Oil has jacked up its prices and gasoline is back up to $3.20 a gallon for unleaded in Massachusetts and is reportedly headed to $3.50 nationally. As the Obama administration tiptoes between popular protests and potentates who turn on our oil spigot, Americans are concerned about prices at the gas pump.

Turgay Balli, a Roxbury Community College student, told the Globe that the $4 a gallon of 2008 would make it prohibitive to buy fuel for his pizza-delivery job. Krystal Cudjoe of Milton said she has “started looking into taking the train to work.’’ As their fears were repeated in newspapers across America, Peter Ricchiuti, assistant business school dean at Tulane University, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “It’s just so clear that a lot of our sources of fuel are underneath crazy people.’’

Even as we speak, one leader crazed with power, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, is trying to buy off newly restless citizens with billions for new homes, business startups, and unemployment assistance. Clearly, the Saudi government, which holds more than 20 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, is trying not just to buy local stability, but to maintain the United States as an ally and oil addict.

Instead of whining about gas prices, Americans should be demanding that the Democrats and the Republicans make oil independence a top priority. Less than a year after the BP oil spill, energy has disappeared as a top issue of the day in current polling of Americans. This is even though energy affects everything from jobs to the environment to what wars we wage to how many blind eyes we offer to dictators who sit on fossil-fuel resources.

We still have not had the seminal wake-up call. The Republican governors of Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, and New Jersey made it a badge of honor to demonize high-speed rails and a commuter-rail tunnel, throwing federal funds back to Washington like dead fish. General Motors, bailed out in a bipartisan rescue, this week announced a $4.7 billion profit for 2010, but it remains absent from the federal government’s list of the top-10 most fuel-efficient cars.

Last month, the new Republican House majority, which has declared war on the Environmental Protection Agency, inspired infantile behavior from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The organization wrote Darrell Issa, the new House oversight chairman, to protest the potential cost of fuel-efficiency standards as high as 62 miles per gallon being considered by the Obama administration.

Such sabotage of energy efficiency should be the subject of protest in the United States. The cheers for democracy in the Middle East will mean so much more when dictators know we too are no longer in bondage — to their oil.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at