LAS VEGAS, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- When he takes control of the U.S. Senate in January, Harry Reid's agenda will include moving the country toward energy independence -- a U.S. security issue, he says -- which he blames the Republican Congress and president for hindering.
In an exclusive interview with United Press International in his Las Vegas office, the future Senate Majority Leader said Thursday he's astonished by how much oil the United States consumes and by the lack of attention paid to drawing down the crude habit.
"Think about this: We use 21 million barrels of oil every day," said Reid, D-Nev. "But then to make it even more profane, we import 65 percent of that."
He said voters Nov. 7 decided on the Democratic Party, partly because "energy independence" was part of its platform.
"With the Republican-dominated Congress and the president, we couldn't change it. We offered amendments that were turned down easily. We were voted down on party line basis most every time."
Reid said Congress needs to invest away from fossil fuels and more in solar and wind power, geothermal (generating power from the natural heat deep in the Earth) and biomass (converting plant matter to fuels).
"We can't do it overnight but I think we have to set goals. How about something as simple as reducing the importation of oil by a million barrels a year," Reid said.
"If we could only import 20 million barrels then we could do a number of things. What I hope that we would do is move to alternative energy. Give tax credits over a long period of time, not a year or two, so people could invest in alternative energy. We could certainly do more with conservation that we're not doing."
Of the 7.6 billion barrels of crude and petroleum products the United States consumed in 2005, 3.3 billion barrels was burned in the nation's vehicles, according to the Energy Information Administration, the data arm of the U.S. Energy Department.
Reid says this is a great starting point for reducing U.S. consumption and increasing energy efficiency, and favors raising the bar for fuel economy standards, which the industry is against.
"We really feel that the best way to encourage efficiency is by stimulating the market with incentives," said Wade Newton, communications director for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
"The industry supports putting as many fuel efficient vehicles on the road as soon as possible," not with mandates, but by creating a market of many options and giving consumers tax incentives to purchase efficient vehicles.
Reid says he'd also be open to new nuclear power in the United States. But he's at odds with the industry over what to do with the nuclear waste. Reid wants it kept safe at the nuclear plants as opposed to a proposed repository inside Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
While the Yucca argument is a major one, Trish Conrad, spokeswoman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, said the industry is looking forward to working with the new Congress.
"We know that he has supported nuclear energy in the past," she said.
Without giving exact details, Reid said to expect a tax on oil company profits he deems excessive.
"Yeah, we're going to do a number of things. We believe that there should be a windfall profits tax. See I personally think it's not right that Exxon makes $40 billion a year net profit and we give them subsidies."
He said he's in favor of some domestic oil and gas drilling off the U.S. coast, part of an offshore drilling bill the Senate passed earlier this year (although it's at odds with a House version), but won't allow exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"ANWR will not happen. I am opposed to it. That was one of the joys of my life was when we defeated that legislative initiative of Sen. (Ted) Stevens (R-Alaska) to drill in ANWR," he said.
"There are things we can do for domestic production but keep in mind we control less than 3 percent of oil in the world," Reid said. "Ninety-seven- plus percent is in Saudi Arabia, Russia, other countries. We can't produce our way out of the problems that we have. It's not improbable, it's impossible.
"We have two years guaranteed and I hope by the end of this Congress we have things that are in motion to cut down our dependence on foreign oil."
Reid said the country has been short-sighted when making decisions on energy, which he said should be looked at as both a security and an economic issue. And he said foresight requires a move away from Bush administration policies; away from the secret energy strategy meetings held by Vice President Dick Cheney in 2001, which created the basis for all energy legislation and policy over the past six years.
"How did we come up with the energy policy that we have? Obviously this is the most oil-friendly administration in the history of our country. They both made their fortunes in oil."
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