March 20, 2005
With gasoline once again at $2 and higher per gallon, and some fill-ups pushing $50, we know we need a national energy policy. The question is: What provisions will comprise this policy? Some people see it has as an either/or proposition—either more energy exploration or more emphasis on efficiency and new fuels. In fact, we must have the whole package—an energy policy promoting more domestic production of traditional fuels, better efficiency and new alternative energy.
The Problem: With an almost religious zeal, environmental special interests oppose further development of gasoline, diesel, coal, nuclear power or any type of existing energy source, particularly in America. It's hurting America's people. Each time we've failed to act, energy prices have soared to record levels. If we don't act soon, this year will be no exception. The national average is already $2.15 per gallon, and the peak driving seasons of spring and summer remain before us. Gasoline is up 26 cents from last year's average. Are we going to wait another year until the average hits $2.50 or $3 per gallon? If we do, our economy will start to falter, and many jobs will be lost.
The Choices: America has just three basic options. First, we can beg nations like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela to increase their production. Begging either of these two nations for anything erodes our national security. Many of our terrorist enemies hail from Saudi Arabia, despite its government's stated opposition to terrorism. We can't ignore that. In our own hemisphere, Venezuela's president has voiced support for Iran's obtaining nuclear weapons. Yet, some liberal Senators are advocating that we lobby these two nations for more oil as a short-term solution. That's unacceptable and unimaginative.
Second, we can try to conserve our way out of this problem. It sounds great, but we've already tried that. Remember the 1970s - the 55 mph speed limit, President Jimmy Carter asking Americans to turn their heaters down, the solar energy hype? We couldn't conserve our way out of an energy deficit then, and we sure can't do it in the midst of an energy-hungry electronic information age now. Setting arbitrary, government-mandated standards for fuel and power consumption has been tried before. Conservation is good but not by itself. It's a one-dimensional approach to a multi-dimensional problem.
The Solution: The final choice is a comprehensive package of simultaneous strategies. It starts when, for the first time in American history, we enact a comprehensive national energy policy, one that balances domestic production, promotes conservation and provides incentives for developing technologies like fuel cells, hybrid automobiles and the like.
Past energy policy proposals were stalled just on the issue of more domestic production. I've been talking to oil company executives about this, particularly questioning them about their record profits. Of course it's easy to bash oil companies, and I don't defend them. But I've listened to experts talk about the need for new refineries in America, the last of which were built 25 years ago. I believe a good energy policy should make it easier to construct new refineries like the one near my house in Pascagoula. I also think a good energy policy should include incentives for nuclear power production, the cleanest of all power. More nuclear plants like the one at Port Gibson are needed.
The Challenge: The solution is before us - an energy policy which uses all strategies at once. The challenge is overcoming the special interests on both sides so that an energy policy can be enacted. We can't keep letting a few folks opposed to more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico or Alaska, for instance, hold hostage any more energy proposals. Why should they? Folks in the areas affected by domestic drilling support it. The most recent surveys show that 75 percent of Alaskans favor drilling in their state, and an even greater majority of native Alaskans near the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve support it.
Eventually, Americans will get fed up with rising energy costs. When we do, we won't get rid of our cars or start reading by candlelight. Instead, Americans will demand that their government enact America's first national energy policy, not to promote new drilling, more conservation and alternative energy research, but to do all these things together, at once - the whole package.
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office)