- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED:

With the current national average for a gallon of gasoline over $4, and creeping steadily toward $5, Americans are draining their pocketbooks at the gas pump while Congress continues to engage in the age-old pastime of political finger-pointing. We are in the midst of the gravest energy crisis this nation has seen since the oil embargos of the 1970s. Americans are increasingly looking to Washington for leadership. But there has been no leadership, no solution, and not even a constructive debate.

This must end now. Republicans and Democrats must cast aside prior grievances, extreme partisanship, and the scoring of cheap political points in favor of a nonpartisan energy solution for America. It took more than 30 years to get ourselves into this position, and the pain is not going to end overnight Yet an end to the energy crisis is at our fingertips, if Republicans and Democrats are willing to risk the wrath of special interest groups and grab hold of it.

Traditionally, Republicans focus on increasing our domestic oil supply, by drilling off the Outer Continental Shelf and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Democrats, on the other hand, argue that oil itself is the problem. Their solution entails curbing public demand for oil and utilizing more wind and solar power. I believe that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Any discussion of a viable energy solution must begin with a philosophy that goes something like this: “Our society is too dependent upon fossil fuels to go cold turkey so we must increase our domestic oil supply while we transition to cleaner renewable alternative energy sources as quickly as possible.”

How do we pursue that strategy? In the short term, we begin by utilizing the energy that sits beneath our own soil. This means drilling for oil in Federal lands and waters off the continental shelf, where it is currently prohibited. We can also utilize the oil shale deposits in the West, which could yield between 1.8 trillion and 8 trillion barrels of oil. In the Midwest, we have a coal supply with more energy capability than Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined. If it were fully utilized via currently available coal-to-liquid technology, it would equate to 5 million barrels of oil per day by 2030. As we begin to fuel our own nation, our reliance on oil imports from volatile areas of the world will decline, and we will have a more dependable, cheaper source of oil to fuel our cars and heat our homes. With new power plants, refineries, and drilling sites to build and manage, we will also create good paying jobs, right here at home.

I believe those are the options for the short term. If my Democrat colleagues find some of these energy opportunities unacceptable - and they probably do - then so be it. Republicans must be willing to compromise by perhaps agreeing to utilize only a portion of these resources, while ensuring that they are extracted in an environmentally responsible fashion, and using some of the revenue generated to accelerate research into new alternative sources of energy. Democrats, on the other hand, must be willing to compromise by allowing more domestic oil and gas exploration and drilling.

For the long term, investment in alternative energy is a must. We will also need to change our national mindset about how we use energy and phase down the use of fossil fuels, as alternative energy technologies come online. From the way our homes and businesses are built, to the vehicles we drive every day - and how we drive them - Americans will need to be much more conscious of how much energy they consume. Again, Republicans must be willing to defy some traditionally conservative stances if we want to reach a compromise with the Democrats and solve this problem. Similarly, Democrats must be willing to compromise by supporting initiatives such as making nuclear power part of the alternative energy grid, scale back environmental reviews to speed the construction of wind and solar power plants (spending billions of taxpayer dollars to develop viable solar and wind technologies is pointless if we can’t build solar power plants) and placeing reasonable limits on frivolous lawsuits designed to delay or stop construction projects.

This is not rocket science. We have the tools to get through this energy crisis if we are willing to use them. If we can muster the political will, we can beat these high gas prices today, and turn our current hardship into an opportunity to lead the world in the pursuit of alternative fuels and new technologies that can dramatically reduce our global addiction to fossil fuels. Our nation was founded on the principle of compromise. I call upon my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to sit down with me at a table today, and hash out compromise legislation that is not perfect for Republicans, or Democrats, but is practical for America. We can do it; the American people expect us to do it. So let’s get started.

Rep. Dan Burton is an Indiana Republican.

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