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Getting off Oil

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Joint American-Israel Effort to Get off Oil

December 13th 2007

Empty on Oil

One little known but crucial provision in the comprehensive energy legislation that just passed the Senate last week is the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act (USIECA). The bill is headed for passage in the House this week and the President’s signature thereafter.

USEICA allocates U.S. funding for Israeli research into new technologies to decrease American dependence on foreign oil. The law will establish a multi-year program of grants for joint projects at the basic research level between U.S. and Israeli academic institutions, and at the applied research and development level between U.S. and Israeli companies. Administered by the Secretary of Energy, the program who will be driven by a joint American and Israel board of advisors.

USIECA was the brainchild of Jack Halpern, Chairman of the American Jewish Congress’s Energy Independence Task Force. For his part, Halpern expressed “Extraordinary pride in the passage of this important measure because of the many years we put into the effort for its enactment, beginning with our conceptualization of the measure in 2003, through lobbying for the measure for four years.”

“The American Jewish Congress was the first American Jewish organization to endorse the principle of energy independence and our work towards that goal remains a top priority,” Halpern said.

The century-old organization which has led the Jewish community in the crusade to get off of oil, recently awarded its Thomas Edison Awards at a grand banquet in Beverly Hills organized by its western regional director, Gary Ratner. Awards were granted to American Honda for its landmark achievements in hydrogen, CNG and hybrid automobiles; Gal Luft as the head of Set Americas Free; Alvin Blaine for organizing fuel efficient and alternative fuel fleets for the City of Los Angeles; the California Hydrogen Business Council; and bestselling investigative author, Edwin Black, for his book, Internal Combustion, and for launching his so-called the Green Fleet Initiative. The Thomas Edison Awards were designed to celebrate and recognize outstanding efforts to rid America of its dependence on oil. The award was named for Thomas Edison because, as was recently revealed by author Edwin Black, the famous inventor undertook a secret program with Henry Ford in 1912 to replace the internal combustion machine with electric vehicles.  His visionary effort was sabotaged.

Historically, the conceptual need for USIECA grew out of discussions between Israeli and U.S. scientists, engineers, academicians and business leaders at a conference in Jerusalem in August, 2003. Convened under American Jewish Congress auspices, the conference was co-hosted by the Israel Ministry for National Infrastructures and by the U.S. Department of Energy.

American-Israeli technical and scientific cooperation has already produced the first fully operational missile defense system, the centerpiece of which is the Arrow anti-missile missile. That led energy observers to see another such technological alliance as more than hopeful.

American Jewish Congress Executive Director Neil B. Goldstein said “USEICA will allow America to encourage and further develop areas in which Israel has already shown great innovation.” Established Israeli skills in solar energy can help produce hydrogen fuel; its biotechnology work can improve the conversion of cellulosic waste into ethanol and methanol; and its strong position in chemistry, engineering and nanotechnology can improve the efficiency of fuel cells.

Originally, the U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act had been introduced as a separate bill by a bipartisan coalition led in the House by Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) and John Shadegg (R-AZ) and in the Senate by Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Gordon Smith (R-OR). As the 2007 legislative year progressed, the bill was incorporated in comprehensive energy legislation in the House through the work of the bill’s sponsors, their staffs and the efforts of Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Anthony Weiner (D-NY); and, more recently, it was incorporated in the Senate version of the comprehensive energy bill through the efforts of the Senate sponsors and their staffs. The free-standing version was cosponsored by more than 100 House members and more than a dozen Senators.

American Jewish Congress national policy director Matthew Mark Horn was not shy about thanking the America Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs for their help in galvanizing Congressional support.

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