- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

Very few Americans have been able to isolate or immunize themselves from today’s economic hardships, but for America’s seniors and working families, the impact is even more severe. Savings built and strengthened over a lifetime have been erased. The cost of living continues to climb. And golden years for many that should be filled with travel, relaxation and quality time with grandchildren are instead filled with apprehension and anxiety.

But hey: At least gas and electricity prices are low, right? Wrong. Time to update your calendar. As we welcome in this year’s summer driving season, the price for our essential fuel is on the rise again. Just 10 months removed from record-breaking gas prices, we’ve wasted no time in making another serious run at that mark. Worse yet, all indicators suggest prices have only one direction to go from here (hint: not down).

Unfortunately, even as energy continues to be a topic of active discussion in Washington, not very much of what’s being talked about will do a whole lot of good for our nation’s retirees. Cap-and-trade, renewable-electricity mandates, low-carbon fuel standards - all are part of a plan to hand over control of your gas tank, refrigerator and thermostat to the federal government. And don’t forget about your light bulbs.

What alternatives to a tax-and-mandate-driven energy policy exist? You don’t have to be old enough to remember the days of President Carter to be up on the fact that there’s no silver bullet to achieving long-term energy security and independence. But if we are to make America a more prosperous, more competitive, more secure place in which to live and retire, we must aggressively move forward with the responsible development of abundant energy resources along our nation’s outer continental shelf (OCS).

However, not only aren’t policymakers doing enough to expand the playing field and give American taxpayers more and better access to the resources they own, some are actively working to take away existing areas. It started earlier this year with the decision by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to rescind already awarded leases on 130,000 acres of energy-rich land in Utah. Then Mr. Salazar shut down a pilot program in Colorado that had turned the corner on cleanly and efficiently developing oil from shale. To add insult to injury, he also announced that a new energy plan - written in the months after Congress allowed its 28-year ban on safe energy exploration offshore to expire - would have to wait an additional six months before his department would even consider putting it into practice.

Actually, it didn’t end there. In April, a court in Washington took the unprecedented step of throwing out the current policy governing our nation’s offshore energy program - casting doubt on whether future energy exploration could take place in Alaska and even if current exploration can continue in the Gulf of Mexico. What did the interior secretary say about that? What did he do to ensure the judges’ orders were complied with and the disaster was averted? We’re still waiting. Check back later.

Only five months into the job, Mr. Salazar may not get it yet - but the American people do. They understand that more energy - especially the estimated 420 trillion cubic feet of American natural gas and 86 billion barrels of American oil that lie off the OCS - will help create good jobs and keep energy prices affordable. They also understand that expanded access to homegrown American energy will help alleviate the financial troubles facing so many retirees struggling on fixed incomes.

The message is spreading. A Monmouth University poll out of New Jersey last week found a whole lot more people living in the Middle Atlantic region favor environmentally sound offshore energy exploration than oppose it. You would expect a poll like that from Texas. Turns out, Paterson,, N.J., and Plano, Texas, have a lot more in common than we think.

Plainly put, America’s seniors deserve an energy policy that ensures that energy remains stable, secure and affordable. Plainer still: We’ve earned it.

Today’s retirees have weathered our share of tough times. We’ve lived through world wars and not-so-great depressions. We’ve overcome every challenge. Our energy security is one of the most important challenges we face. If our government listens to its people and allows us to embrace new, 21st-century technologies that can produce more American energy safely and use what we have more wisely, we will overcome this challenge, too.

James L. Martin is the president of the 60 Plus Association, a nonpartisan seniors-advocacy group with a free-enterprise, less-government, fewer-taxes approach to seniors issues.


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