Immigration and Energy

By Donald F. Anthrop

Politicians from both parties are scrambling to buy the votes of immigrant groups through promises of amnesty for illegal immigrants and higher quotas for legal immigration.  Absent from the debate on immigration has been any discussion of the impact of immigration on U.S. population growth and the consequences of such growth.

In each of the last two years, the U.S. population increased by about 2.9 million.  Legal immigrants comprised 40 percent of the increase.  However, the effect of immigration is much greater than the 40 percent would suggest.  Indeed, population growth in the U.S. is being driven by immigration.  The birth rate among immigrants is higher than for the native population.  Because the average age of immigrants is lower than that of the native-born population, the death rate is lower.  Consequently, the natural rate of increase for the U.S. population is about 0.565 percent per year compared to zero for most European countries.

Under the Senate immigration bill, the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. could apply for legal resident status.  However, the Department of Homeland Security estimates that 15% to 20% of these illegal immigrants will be denied resident status because of criminal records.  After this backlog has been cleared, 930,000 legal immigrants would be admitted annually.  If the natural rate of increase remains constant, the U.S. population will increase from 299.4 million on July 1, 2006 to 334.6 million in 2017—an increase of 35.2 million.  This kind of continued population growth is simply not sustainable.

Nowhere is the unsustainability of this growth more apparent than in the energy sector.  Per capita energy consumption and per capita gasoline consumption in the U.S. in 2005 were virtually identical to the levels in 1974—the year of the Arab oil embargo.  The 35 percent increase in U.S. energy consumption since 1974 is due to the 83 million people added to the U.S. population in the intervening 31 years.

In his January State of the Union address, President Bush proposed a federal law that would mandate the production of 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels annually to replace gasoline by the year 2017.  The only renewable fuel that the U.S. produces in any significant commercial quantity is ethanol derived from corn.  Therefore, the president essentially proposed mandating production of 35 billion gallons of corn ethanol annually in 2017.  If per capita gasoline consumption remains constant at 11.2 barrels per year, the additional gasoline consumed by the 35 million people added to the U.S. population under the Senate immigration bill will negate almost 70 percent of the 35 billion gallons of ethanol production.

Let’s illustrate the gasoline requirement for these additional 35 million people in another way.  If per capita gasoline consumption remains constant, the additional 35 million people in the U.S. in 2017 would need 390 million barrels of gasoline annually.  In order to replace this gasoline with corn ethanol, 92 percent of the present U.S. corn crop would have to be devoted to fuel ethanol production.  Although the U.S. currently produces only about 5.8 billion gallons of ethanol annually, ethanol production caused the price of corn to nearly double in the past year.  Mass immigration is not compatible with reduced reliance on petroleum fuels and caps on carbon emissions.  Americans will pay a heavy price for politicians pandering to immigrant groups and the cheap labor lobby.

Donald F. Anthrop is a consultant for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) and can be reached at or