- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 29, 2001

The price of gas at my local service station has gone from around $1.70 a gallon this past summer to a little over $1.10 this week. Just south of the Washington area, you can find gas well below $1 a gallon. As we approach winter, heating oil prices are expected to be some 15 percent below last winter's prices and natural gas prices have plummeted since January.
This is certainly good news. But we should not let the daily price of fuel, which is highly variable, dictate our response to America's long-term energy needs. Last spring's price spikes persuaded some people of the need for price controls. Today's falling prices now persuade people that we have no energy challenges. Neither response is justified.
September 11 showed us how quickly our assumptions about the future can change. The fall of the shah in Iran and Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait are just two relatively recent examples of unexpected events with far-reaching consequences for our energy security.
So, today, we really have no choice but to think through what energy security means for America. It should go without saying that energy security and national security are closely linked. We can't run our fleet, fly our aircraft or move our land forces without energy. Energy security is also a principal factor perhaps the principal factor in sustaining a robust and growing economy. More than that, however, access to secure and affordable energy gives us confidence that American prosperity is sustainable.
It is no coincidence that concerns about the ebbing of American power and the idea that we were suffering some kind of national funk, or malaise, were most pronounced at just the time the country suffered an energy crisis in the 1970s.
Still, despite what history has clearly taught us about the pervasive influence of energy on our security and well-being, simplistic notions about energy security abound. Take, for example, the confused thinking about the idea of energy independence.
That we import about half our oil is not, in itself, a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a reminder that we live in a global economy. When it comes to energy we have a buyer-seller relationship with a host of countries, and these relationships entail all the tensions one would expect. And especially with energy, those economic relationships have an overlay of complex geopolitics. But my message to the world's energy ministers is always the same and it will continue to be the same no one's interest is served by artificially high energy prices. A stable and growing global economy benefits producers just as much as it does buyers.
Whether we achieve greater levels of energy security and whether my argument to the world's energy ministers carries conviction has at least as much to do with how we act here at home as how we act internationally. Domestically, energy policy presents us with the same kind of demands for strength and resolve that are asked of us as we confront international terrorism. But many people just don't see the linkage. In fact, I'm amazed when the people who oppose virtually every domestic supply proposal are often the first to contact me to complain about the price implications of OPEC production decisions insisting that we get tough with the oil producers. As if one had nothing to do with the other.
Determination on our part to meet the full range of our energy challenges from improvements to the electricity grid to market-based conservation will show the world that we will not allow ourselves to be at the mercy of others. We are a buyer in a global market. But we are a buyer with choices. And we should act like one.
A more useful way of thinking about energy security is the familiar concept of spreading risk, thus minimizing vulnerabilities in the production, transportation and sources of energy. There are three steps we can take to reduce our risks in the energy field and achieve this vision of energy security.
First, energy diversity. We need an assortment of fuels. And we also need a multiplicity of sources. Clean coal, hydropower, nuclear energy, wind, solar and geothermal we must look to all types of power and fuels to meet our electricity demands. Increasing the sources of energy means taking a global approach to finding tomorrow's energy working with a host of nations from Mexico to those in the Caspian region, to increase production, open markets, break down trade barriers and reduce burdensome regulations that discourage foreign investment.
Second, energy security demands increased domestic production, combined with enhanced efficiency and conservation. Pitting production against efficiency is simply a recipe for inaction. We need both.
Third, we need to modernize our energy infrastructure. The network of pipelines, transmission lines, and refineries that makes up our energy delivery system is enormous, complex and showing its age. We have 150,000 miles of transmission lines more than 2 million miles of oil and gas pipeline. Millions of barrels of oil reach America's harbors every day. This system is stretched thin.
We need a new and more responsible approach in the wake of September 11. The new approach recognizes the lesson of history that energy challenges are a predictable part of our global economy. It recognizes that we must take responsibility for our demand for energy and prepare to meet the foreseeable risks to the supply of that energy. It recognizes that energy security starts here at home.

Spencer Abraham is secretary of energy and a former Republican senator from Michigan.


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