- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

California's rolling blackouts have become less frequent. Gasoline prices have fallen from peak levels. Air quality is stable. America is getting back to business as usual. We shouldn't be.
This week the U.S. House approved legislation that if passed by the Senate and signed into law, would be our country's first comprehensive energy plan in a generation. The House bill, Save America's Future Energy Act (SAFE), recognizes Americans must not become complacent. It provides many important common-sense solutions that will work not just tomorrow, but for decades to come.
What happened in our nation's energy markets earlier this year can be likened to an engine light on the dashboard of a car. The light illuminates and gives us a warning and a chance to take action before we face a major crisis. We must embrace a long-term energy plan that protects our air and water quality, promotes more efficient use of energy and increases environmentally safe development of domestic energy. Otherwise, we may see our country's economic engine — with its investments in environmental protection — sputter to a crawl.
The facts are simple. Even with the extensive and far-reaching conservation initiatives outlined by the president, over the next 20 years, U.S. natural gas consumption is expected to grow by more than 50 percent, while domestic production will increase only 14 percent. At the same time, if domestic oil production follows the pattern of the last 10 years, it will decline by 1.5 million barrels per day in the next 20 years, while demand will increase by 6 million barrels a day.
In short, U.S. energy production is not keeping up with the needs of our families and our economy. Conservation can and will help; but without action, we cannot check the rapidly increasing gap between our supply and our growing energy needs.
President Bush is not letting the warning light on the dashboard go unheeded. The administration's energy plan will ensure Americans have environmental protection, dependable sources of energy, and stable prices at the gas pump and in family utility bills.
Critics of the president's plan have focused narrowly on its recommendations for energy development. Although America can and should increase environmentally sound domestic energy production through the use of new technologies and American ingenuity, this is just one part of the president's long-term strategy.
In fact, more than half of the 105 recommendations in the president's plan focus on improving energy efficiency and conservation, protecting the environment, and diversifying our energy supply through development of renewable sources, such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal technologies.
These recommendations range from encouraging development of more fuel-efficient cars to investing $2 billion over 10 years to fund more clean coal technology research and support a permanent extension of the existing research and development tax credit.
The president's plan also focuses developing energy sources on some federal lands managed by the Interior Department. Calculations suggest federal lands contain approximately 68 percent of all undiscovered U.S. oil resources and 74 percent of undiscovered natural gas resources. Developing our energy sources on public lands is critical to our nation's economy and security. Using new technologies, we can do it in a way that protects our environment.
Federal lands also provide the best opportunity for developing renewable energy sources. This fall, the administration will bring state and local officials together with industry leaders and other citizens for a renewable energy summit. The summit will focus on maximizing wind, solar and geothermal energy production on public lands. Renewable energy sources won't fill our energy needs completely, but they can play a significant role. The president is committed to developing them.
Americans share a great concern about our environment and a deep love for our land and wildlife. We want to hand down to our children and grandchildren a land that is as rich in its rivers, lakes, and wide open spaces as the one that was handed down to us. To do so, we must carefully consider how we develop our energy resources, and protect our environment.
The National Energy Policy and the House bill will accomplish this goal. By bringing America's energy supply network into the 21st century, the plan will allow us to access the abundant energy resources of our country to keep gas prices stable, utility bills down and our economy humming. At the same time, it safeguards our environment and ensures our land will be healthy and whole for future generations.
The light on the dashboard is on. Let's not ignore it.

Gale Norton is secretary of the interior.

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