A Beltway boost for EVs: Washington lobbying group wants to end petroleum dependence

Participants in SAFE’s Oil ShockWave simulation dealt with spiking oil prices and political instability

Environmentalists, gutsy entrepreneurs and automakers stressing about fuel economy standards often drive the push for electric vehicles.But in Washington, a very different group is quietly moving federal policy toward vehicle electrification. Securing America’s Future Energy, a group little known outside the Beltway but highly influential within it, sees petroleum dependence as a critical national security issue.Last month SAFE held a war-game simulation, Oil ShockWave, in which former government officials, military leaders and cabinet members tried to deal with sharply rising oil prices and the resulting political instability.Participants included retired Navy Adm. Dennis Blair, former director of national intelligence; John Negroponte, former deputy secretary of state and director of national intelligence; Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser; and John Hofmeister, former CEO of Shell Oil Co.

Not your typical greenies, in other words.

SAFE is a lobbying group formed in 2005 and made up of business executives, former government officials and military leaders. Blair says his military service convinced him that the U.S. appetite for oil has entangled American foreign policy — and troops — in the Middle East.”It was an accumulated feeling over 35 years of a naval career, just watching our armed forces get sucked into that region,” Blair said in an interview. “Underlying it all was that attachment to oil that really involved us in that region.”SAFE held its first Oil ShockWave in 2005. That event’s chairman was Robert Gates, who went on to become secretary of defense. Other SAFE events have drawn Washington luminaries such as then-Sen. Barack Obama and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. A documentary on the 2008 version of the Oil ShockWave was broadcast on PBS.SAFE has produced studies and lobbied for federal policies to cut petroleum dependence. It was instrumental in founding the Electrification Coalition, a group of business leaders promoting EVs.

Blair says SAFE has three main goals:

1. Increase drilling for domestic oil.

2. Conserve oil, especially in motor vehicles, which he says use 70 percent of U.S. oil.

3. Convert the country to an electric transportation infrastructure.

The group has concluded that electricity is the best alternative to petroleum, Blair says.”We figured we needed an energy source for transportation that is domestically produced, widely distributed and available from a variety of sources,” he said. “That really drove us to electricity.”SAFE recently jumped into the debate over proposed federal fuel economy standards for the 2017-25 model years, arguing for the toughest standard then under consideration, a 62 mpg national corporate average fuel economy. Its rationale: Tougher fuel-economy standards would lead to a bigger cut in petroleum use.In a white paper issued in June, SAFE said it “continues to support the most aggressive annual improvement goal supported by credible economic and engineering analysis.”SAFE also backs the Promoting Electric Vehicles Act of 2011, which would create EV demonstration communities with full electric transportation infrastructures. The bill also would support EV use in fleets and increase r&d funding for EV components.Blair says that the United States is “a little late to the game” in vehicle fuel economy.

“If you look at the level of technology and the mileage that we get on our cars, we are behind Europe and even behind China,” he said.But concern over petroleum dependence is growing. General Motors recently surveyed early buyers of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and found that the top reason for purchase was “reducing dependence on foreign oil.”Blair says SAFE’s message that the nation needs a different vehicle fuel is gaining traction, at least in principle.”I think we’ve certainly passed the first hurdle,” he said. “People don’t fight us on the logic or the message. It’s just a question of the speed and the priorities.”

 

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