Commentary: Reducing our reliance on imported oil

The following editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star

Americans heard plenty of confusing rhetoric during the presidential race about how much foreign oil costs and who gets our money.

"We have to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much," Sen. John McCain said.

And Barack Obama said the United States needed to stop "sending $700 billion a year to tyrants and dictators for their oil."

Both candidates tried to tap into the anti-OPEC feeling among Americans tired of shelling out so much for energy, especially for gasoline. But reality doesn't match the rhetoric:

- The United States is not sending $700 billion overseas for its crude oil and petroleum products such as kerosene. In 2007, the figure was about $250 billion.

Even this past summer, when oil prices soared to their highest levels ever, the United States was on pace to spend $500 billion annually on all of its petroleum imports. Now, with oil prices having plummeted, the nation is on pace to once again spend about $250 billion a year on imported petroleum.

As President-elect Obama readies his new energy strategy to send to Congress in 2009, he should keep his pledge to promote policies that reduce the nation's use of imported petroleum. And he should support his case with accurate information about the cost of foreign oil.

- The United States imports most of its oil from friendly nations, not unfriendly ones. Just look at the countries that have supplied the most petroleum to Americans through the first eight months of this year. The list is topped by Canada, a country that likes us a lot and certainly isn't led by a dictator. Ditto for Mexico, the No. 3 supplier. Combined, those two allies supply almost a third of all foreign petroleum to the United States.

So who are the "bad guys" in the top 10?

Saudi Arabia is the No. 2 supplier, but it's a powerful Middle Eastern ally. Venezuela (No. 4) certainly fits the bill of a country led by an anti-American President in Hugo Chavez. Others in the top 10 include Nigeria; Iraq, which we're fighting a war to liberate; Algeria, Angola and Russia.

In the coming months Obama and Congress need to craft energy legislation that promotes responsible domestic production of petroleum and alternative fuels, but also encourages far more conservation. Combined, those are good ways to reduce America's reliance on imported oil.