- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

I recently addressed a congressional committee about what’s being done — and what’s not being done — to improve America’s energy supplies.

I reminded Congress that seniors have long memories. We fondly recall cheap gas and boundless energy supplies. I am proud to be a Kentucky coal miner’s son, and vividly recollect the sight and smell of my dad’s carbide light many mornings as he left before dawn for the coal mine.

In the shadow of a harsh winter, natural gas prices are dramatically up. If Congress wants to cut costs, it must pass the Energy Bill.

Unfortunately, even a much-reduced version of it is hung up in the Senate. It’s hard to believe such vital legislation could be on the ropes — but it is.

One example of the Energy Bill’s importance is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. LIHEAP helps qualified Americans — many of whom are seniors on fixed incomes — heat and cool their homes. Although natural gas is up 70 percent, LIHEAP funding is down. The Energy Bill solves this by authorizing more funds. That’s the first step. The next is to fully appropriate the money.

The Census Bureau reported last year America has 3.6 million impoverished seniors. When it comes to heating and cooling, seniors face unique challenges. It’s hard to carry wood to the fireplace. Some have sealed windows, or are reluctant to open them if they can. They must turn to their thermostats, whether it’s hot or cold. An elderly Philadelphia man died of exposure this winter, in his own home. His gas had been shut off.

He had a LIHEAP application, but was too infirm to sign. But as bad as this winter has been, more Americans will actually succumb to summer heat than all other weather phenomena combined. With the arrival of spring, this crisis will not abate. Congress must act.

We also need more domestic energy. This includes coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind and solar power. Most electricity comes from coal. We’ve come a long way from the abandoned strip mines of my childhood. Now, sound technologies ensure energy exploration and production with diminished environmental risk.

President Bush has proposed the most comprehensive energy policy I’ve seen in 40 years on the Washington scene. And to the fear-mongers who falsely accuse his plan of being anti-environment, I say that’s nonsense. It is chock full of pro-environment provisions; more than 40 items are ecology friendly.

Uncertain international energy supplies are a threat to America.

Seniors have seen this coming a long time. During the 1973 Arab oil embargo, then-Minority Leader John Rhodes, Arizona Republican, appointed Indiana Rep. Roger Zion to lead the House Republican Task Force on Energy.

Today, Roger chairs the 60 Plus Association at a hale and hearty 82 years young; he’s still fired-up about foreign energy, and for good reason.

President Jimmy Carter once cautioned when oil imports were at 37 percent that they must not rise another point. Today, they are more than 57 percent of our supply. Where do we stop this rising dependence on foreign oil?

Although not part of the Energy Bill, America’s policy toward oil reserves within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be revisited. 60 Plus once considered this an economic issue. But now, perhaps because so many of our members are military veterans, we see this in more fundamental terms: it’s a national security necessity.

September 11, 2001, and our War on Terror are proverbial canaries in America’s “coal mine.” My father would’ve spotted this without his carbide light. America must see it just as clearly.

ANWR is America’s bulwark against a tumultuous Middle East energy bazaar. Perhaps the starkest confirmation is the bellicose threats of al Qaeda’s groveled thugs. They have openly threatened Alaska’s energy infrastructure. They grasp what some in Congress apparently cannot. Domestic energy is part of America’s vital life blood. The 60 Plus generation has never shrunk from infamy. Neither should today’s leaders.

Congress should pass the Energy Bill. LIHEAP should be fully funded to prevent needless loss of life this summer, and ANWR should be opened.

It’s time to stop the demagoguery and start drilling in the ANWR. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. America’s security — economic and military — depends on it.

Jim Martin is president of the 60 Plus Association, a national nonpartisan senior citizen organization in Arlington, Va.

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