Group Considers Global and Local Impact of Being ‘Over a Barrel’

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, members of the American Jewish Committee were set to gather in New York City to discuss how the United States might reduce its dependence on foreign oil. When the terrorists attacked the the twin towers at the World Trade Center, the purpose behind this modest gathering took on even greater significance, according to Richard Foltin, legislative director and counsel in AJCommittee's office of government and international affairs.

"It demonstrated the degree to which we live in a brittle world, a fragile world," he said at a recent event, "and that there is potential for us to take the bull by the horns, and once again bring the AJC to a leadership position on this issue and begin to push for change."

Ironically, the United States relies on much greater amounts of foreign oil than it did back in the 1970s, according to the Energy Information Administration. The organization claims that in 1973 — the height of the Mideast oil embargo — some 34.8 percent of oil was imported. In 2006, the number climbed to a whopping 59.6 percent.

Alternative Energy Sources

Although mainly geared toward issues of security rather than environmental concerns, AJCommittee policy recently denoted reduction of dependence on foreign oil as one of its top priorities. At an educational event called "Over a Barrel: The Global and Local Impact of Foreign Oil Independence," held April 11 at the PECO building in Center City, Foltin discussed the organization's approach to the issue, highlighting support for hybrid versions of larger vehicles, like SUVs and certain commercial equipment. He also endorsed alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind power, and suggested that the country purchase oil from a variety of sources and begin producing more of it at home.

During the event, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-District 13) echoed the AJCommittee's call for change in American energy policy.

"We need to be able to make decisions internationally that are not affected by our need for oil," said Schwartz to the 30 or so people in the audience.

Schwartz touted the new Congress for allocating $14 billion that was originally intended for oil subsidies and placing it in a trust fund to be used for the development of alternative fuels. She also discussed her support for tax breaks for consumers who purchase hybrid cars, insulate windows, or buy efficient heating or air-conditioning units.

She also discussed her support for a bill calling for the United States to partner with Israel in an energy cooperation to exchange ideas and technology.

Also speaking at the event were AJCommittee energy specialist Ami Greener, who discussed the pros and cons of alternative-fuel methods; PECO director of regulatory affairs Dick Webster who touted his company's support for wind power and providing energy-saving tips to its consumers; and Larry Spielvogal, a consulting engineer at the Interfaith Coalition on Energy, who claimed that he's done more than 800 on-site consultations for different religious congregations that have typically saved these institutions up to 20 percent on their energy bills.

Money Where Your Mouth Is

Audience member Paul Jaffe, a longtime board member of the Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey chapter of AJCommittee, asked if the organization's leaders are taking steps in their personal lives to make a difference.

He believes that the best thing the national AJCommittee board members can do is "implement the saving of fuel and conservation, and then go down to Congress and say, 'This is what we're asking,' " said Jaffe, a retired Philadelphia judge.

"Can you imagine," he continued, "somebody who's trying to push for gun control walking in with guns [blazing] and saying, 'I want to get gun control?' "

Foltin responded by saying that the group provides incentives for employees to purchase hybrid cars, but stressed that what board members do in their personal lives can only affect society so much.

"They are not going to make a difference in the larger scheme of things," he said, "unless society changes the infrastructure and changes the action the government takes."



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