News & Politics

R. James Woolsey: Green Awards 2011

Fighting America's dependency on foreign oil with alternative energy initiatives

Photograph by Stephen Voss

Jim Woolsey remembers where he was when he first saw the impact of America’s reliance on imported oil. It was October 1973. Saudi Arabia had cut off oil imports to punish the US for supporting Israel. Woolsey, then general counsel at the Senate Armed Services Committee, nearly missed a Hill hearing because he was stuck in a gas line. “I got teed off that morning,” he says, “and I’ve been teed off ever since.”

The experience led Woolsey to promote alternative energy. CIA director during President Clinton’s first term, he’s best known for his strong stands on national security. But, he says, “hawks need a place to nest, too.” He’s now a senior fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and a venture partner in Lux Capital Management, which has supported renewable-energy start-ups.

Woolsey likens imported oil to gangster Al Capone: It’s done a lot of wrong things, and it can be shut down in a lot of ways. (Capone was eventually convicted of tax evasion.) Imported oil likewise has a long enemies list. Whether you’re concerned with climate change, pollutants, security, or stewardship of the earth, you’re involved in this cause, Woolsey says: “I talk about a coalition of tree huggers, do-gooders, evangelicals, and hawks.”

Woolsey champions a cheap fix that would change the way America powers its cars. For less than $100 a vehicle, he says, automakers can change the plastic in fuel lines to enable US-produced cars to use any alcohol-based fuel. Brazil has required the fuel-line plastic for any car coming into that country. The change would also stimulate domestic production of alternative fuels, he says.

Woolsey was one of the first 20 people to get a plug-in Chevrolet Volt. He has a plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius. His house has a geothermal heat pump, and a wind turbine raises and lowers his boat into the water. The family does own one gas guzzler—a Dodge Ram pickup that is, he says, “happy with biodiesel.”

the 2011 green awards: see the complete listThis article appears in the May 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.

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