- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

One of our most famous presidents said, “Do what you can, where you are with what you’ve got.” I imagine that we can do a lot right now with what we have. I believe that it will make a vital difference in our lives and for the future for our children.

Energy powers our nation. It’s not something that trickles through a meter. It’s literally our life’s blood. The Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of clean energy is changing — again. I’ve lost count of how many changes there have been. And simply reducing ozone is last year’s — last century’s — solution. This is a personal letter from me to you, asking you to imagine what we can accomplish, because if we can imagine it, we can do it.

Moving in that direction, imagine having more clean energy sources. Imagine a choice in your car’s fuel source. As the energy commissioner in Texas, I believe our state and nation need to take that first step by using taxpayer dollars to encourage more alternative-energy sources. That’s why I recently wrote two letters. The first was to urge the CEOs of the major Detroit automakers to work with me to replace the entire fleet of state vehicles with alternative-fuel vehicles. That’s 458,000 more vehicles running on fuels like propane, bio-diesel, electricity, compressed natural gas (CNG), or liquefied natural gas (LNG). In the second letter, I specifically urged the superintendents of more than 1,200 school districts in my state to get cleaner school buses on the road. More than 95 percent of our school buses only consume gasoline or diesel. That’s more than 35,000 buses we could either retrofit with technology to reduce emissions, or swap out for school buses that drink alternative fuel. There are numerous ways to fund this eco-friendly switch with federal and state grants, including a typical grant from my agency for replacing a 15-year-old diesel bus that brings in around $12,000 per bus. If we succeed, we will not only set a good example for our children, but we will deliver cleaner air, consume less energy, reduce our reliance on foreign oil and succeed in stretching taxpayer dollars even further at the fueling station.

Imagine our nation converting all its diesel vehicles to biodiesel like the city of San Francisco completed at the end of last year. Already this city’s sway over style is splashing over into the new kinds of fuel people from Arkansas to London are choosing to put in their gas tanks. Imagine that trend magnified to change the habits in California, New York, Florida and Texas, where almost 30 percent of the nation’s total energy is consumed. I believe if Texas can get it right, it can and will be a leader for other states.

Long term, if Americans choose to follow suit by driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, we will move down the road to provide more energy options for our swelling population. While broadening the kinds of fuels that feed our vehicles will never replace oil, it will help responsibly supply the growing needs of a population that increases at a steady pace every day. That’s a lot of new traffic on our roads. And without adapting, we can expect global energy needs to double in the next 40 years. Just think what the combined imaginative power of all 50 states could deliver by developing their own ways to help citizens make the switch. Just think of what that would mean for our U.S. air quality and U.S. energy security.

We not only want each U.S. citizen to use more clean energy, but we want a country whose strength to grow does not rely on the energy supply of foreign powers and the whims of foreign cartels. We need to export more energy technology, instead of importing barrels of oil. That’s why I want to encourage my counterparts in other states to set a similar example for their citizens and write their own letter to Detroit to urge the automakers to meet their state’s transportation needs.

While I am proud that we have significantly reduced pollutants and ozone levels in the last decades, I know American innovation can meet the challenge of producing more clean air and more clean energy and growing our economy. Imagine moving beyond meeting our own growing energy needs at home to supply the power needs of other countries. Imagine it, can you? If we act on these big ideas by adding alternative energy sources while increasing our production of oil and gas, we can do it now and export it stamped with the label “made in the USA.”

Michael Williams is chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas.


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