As 30th Anniversary of OPEC Oil Embargo Approaches, Alliance to Save Energy Examines Then, Now; Says OPEC Still in 'Driver's Seat' while Congress, Administration Abdicate Leadership Responsibilities

Release Date: Monday, September 29, 2003

Thirty years ago, large American cars queued up for hours in lengthy lines for a pauper's ration of a few gallons of gasoline as the OPEC oil embargo exposed our nation's dependence on foreign oil and our national security vulnerability.

86 Percent of Consumers Say Wider Availability, Selection of Fuel-Efficient Cars, SUVs Would Be Effective in Getting Them to Reduce Energy Use, According to New Alliance Market Research

Thirty years ago, large American cars queued up for hours in lengthy lines for a pauper's ration of a few gallons of gasoline as the OPEC oil embargo exposed our nation's dependence on foreign oil and our national security vulnerability.

Recalls then Senator Charles Percy, a Republican from Illinois , "I was an artillery gunner in World War II when America was under attack, but I never saw the American people as vulnerable as when that embargo hit."

The October 17, 1973 OPEC oil embargo prompted Percy and others in the 1970s to pioneer a number of important actions on the energy front that occurred in succession:

  • Found the bipartisan Alliance to Save Energy to focus on energy efficiency and launch a major public service ad campaign with actor Gregory Peck urging, "Let's Not Blow It, America ."
  • Create a federal department to coordinate energy policy and programs. The US Department of Energy provided funding support to energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.
  • Establish auto fuel efficiency standards that resulted in a doubling of the average new car's fuel efficiency.

These actions were even more critical as the Iranian revolution triggered a second world energy crisis in 1979. Oil prices doubled and plunged the industrial world into a recession.

Let's fast-forward to the present. Even larger gas-guzzling vehicles than ever envisioned in the 70s clog American highways. Transportation accounts for more than 60 percent of US oil consumption. Fuel economy is at a 22-year low as fuel-inefficient SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks comprise more than half of all new vehicle sales.

Gasoline prices today are high - but a gallon of gas is still cheaper than a name brand, "unleaded" decaf cappuccino. US dependence on oil from the volatile Persian Gulf has more than tripled since 1973, from 848,000 barrels a day to nearly 2.7 million barrels a day for the first six months of 2003, reaching a peak of 3.1 million barrels a day in April 2003. Saudi Arabia and Iraq sit on the first and second largest known oil reserves, respectively. OPEC has cut production, and some analysts predict that Iraqi oil flow may not reach pre-war levels until 2005.

So what's new?

"OPEC is still in the driver's seat, and Congress, the Bush Administration, and automobile manufacturers have given them the keys," maintains Alliance Acting Co-President Mark Hopkins. "Congress and the Administration have abdicated their leadership responsibilities by doing nothing to immediately address this nation's increasing, deadly dependence on foreign oil from one of the most volatile regions of the world where the US has fought two wars since 1991.

"Improving fuel economy of cars, SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks is the quickest, cheapest, cleanest way to ease America 's oil dependence, extend our oil supplies, and improve national security. Instead of dealing with this,” Hopkins observes, “Congress is throwing millions of dollars to the oil industry in subsidies and tax breaks in energy bills now in a House and Senate conference.”

New Alliance to Save Energy nationwide consumer market research indicates that 86 percent of US consumers say that wider availability and selection of fuel efficient cars and SUVs would be very effective or somewhat effective in getting them and their families to reduce energy use. And 80 percent of consumers agree that our country needs to reduce foreign oil imports.

Just 22 percent think the federal government is doing enough to require manufacturers to produce energy-efficient products and fuel-efficient vehicles. Lack of financial incentives for manufacturers to produce and consumers to purchase energy-efficient products and vehicles are among the most frequently named reasons for not having more such products and vehicles in the marketplace.

Hopkins, a 19-year veteran of the organization that owes its roots to the OPEC oil embargo, urges Congress and the federal government to address these issues before it's too late.

In a moving speech the month after 9/11, New York Governor George Pataki sums up the importance of energy efficiency at the Alliance's 2001 Evening with the Stars of Energy Efficiency: "In the 21st-century, energy security is national security, and energy efficiency is the best way to bolster energy security."