Kristine Hadeed and Jalisa House
Capital News Service
In remarks that raised some eyebrows in the audience, the nation’s top transportation official said this week that there is an “unlimited supply of oil” in parts of the world.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made that statement Wednesday at VCU at the end of a town hall meeting attended by about 75 students, staff and faculty members.
In the last question of the hour-long meeting, Vicente Gonzalez, a junior majoring in social justice at VCU, asked LaHood about a previous statement he made regarding future standards for automobile efficiency.
“I was wondering,” Gonzalez said, “you said that by 2025, the deal is to have 50 mile-per-gallon (vehicles)?”
“Fifty-four, yeah,” LaHood said.
“Well,” Gonzalez asked, “if we’re expected to exhaust all the world’s oil reserves within the next 25, 30-ish years, then why is gasoline being discussed in these negotiations at all?”
LaHood responded, “There’s an unlimited supply of oil in many countries around the world.”
Gonzalez questioned that, saying, “Unlimited?”
“Absolutely. Absolutely,” LaHood replied. “Now, some of these countries aren’t our friends, others are.”
As the audience chuckled, Gonzalez said, “So you’re saying the supply of gasoline will never end? That it’s unlimited?”
LaHood pointed at Gonzalez and said: “Not in your lifetime. Not in my lifetime. How else do you want me to say it? … We’re not going to run out of gas; we’re not going to run out of oil for a long, long, long time. Many countries have an unlimited supply.”
LaHood’s comments appear to contradict statements made by President Barack Obama about the world’s oil supply. Obama has repeatedly called oil a “finite resource” in urging America to shift from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources.
In a recent article in the journal Nature, James Murray and David King wrote that global oil production has hit a ceiling and that, “We are not running out of oil, but we are running out of oil that can be produced easily and cheaply.”
The transportation secretary, a former congressman from Illinois, came to VCU to hold a town hall meeting the day after Obama gave his State of the Union speech.
While in Richmond, LaHood met with local and state officials and reviewed the progress on a federally funded project to restore bridges on Interstate 95.
At the meeting in the VCU Student Commons, LaHood said federal transportation spending was key to creating jobs. He said his talk offered an opportunity to prod Congress to pass a bill promoting highway and commuter rail construction.
“What we do at the Department of Transportation is put Americans to work,” LaHood said.
Nine of 11 bridges in the I-95 project are in Richmond. LaHood estimated that replacing the steel to increase safety and longevity of the bridges created 130 jobs.
LaHood expressed enthusiasm for alternatives to cars, such as light rail. He said communities are more supportive of mass transit developments such as light rail because of traffic congestion on roads.
“The future of the light rail is very bright. It’s coming to America; there’s no stopping it,” LaHood said. “People want to get out of their cars.
“We’ve probably built about all the roads we’re going to build. We’ve probably increased the capacity, and that’s why a lot of communities are looking for other forms of transportation.”
LaHood also lauded the administration’s initiatives for more cost-efficient vehicles.
“Because of President Obama’s vision, what we’ve done in the past three years is that we’ve persuaded car companies that by 2025, all new vehicles must raise their gas mileage standards to 54 miles per gallon.”