[From Connect Column Archives]
Chalk up a victory for common sense. The United States Senate this past week acted wisely when it voted to block oil drilling activities in the ANWR wildlife area. If drilling activities had been allowed, the primary economic beneficiaries would have been the oil companies and the State of Alaska. The price would have been the sacrifice of one of the most pristine natural areas on the planet. The long term energy gain from extricated oil would have been negligible. Enhancement of national security and reduction of dependence upon foreign oil would have been zip. The wisest choice was made, but it is not clear that it was made with full consciousness of the right reason.
Most political pundits see the battle over ANWR drilling as one between political parties, each trying to gain the advantage over the other. Granted, President Bush had the ANWR issue at the center of his energy policy effort. One has to have more than a little suspicion about this given his and his colleagues’ relationships with oil company folks. The Republicans have pushed the arguments of national security, energy independence and creation of jobs. The Democrats on the other hand have tried to gain the upper hand by adopting the arguments about saving the environment and minimizing the potential impact of the supply of oil that ever could flow from the ANWR area.
Now that the Senate has blocked drilling (at least for the time being), it is time for both parties to get on with taking a real look at the facts of the long term energy needs of this country and the real reason their vote was the best one. It is crystal clear that as long as the United States of American depends upon oil as its primary energy source, it will be dependent upon foreign oil. There just are not oil resources enough, currently exploited or not, in North America upon which to base an energy gluttonous economy. Period. That is a geological fact of life. The oil reserves of the planet are located primarily in countries that are not particularly friendly to the USA and likely never will be. We are presently locked in a rather sick economic dance with those countries in a way that we are dependent upon them and they upon us…… and we upon them and they upon us ….. etc.. As long as that dance goes on, the United States will be vulnerable to the choices of others. We must find a new dance. This will take courage.
It is time for our political leadership to get the backbone to lead us to real energy independence. It is time to revisit legislation about automobile and other gasoline/oil powered vehicle efficiency and raise the standards for future performance. It is time to pass legislation that would provide real economic incentives for energy conservation and innovation. It is time to have the guts to add a few cents tax to a gallon of gasoline with all of the derived revenues being invested in energy research and development. It is time to promote maximum development rates of energy production through wind and tidal generation, through solar energy capture, through energy fuel cell generation, through biomass ethanol production, and, yes, even through nuclear energy generation provided the very serious issues around current safety and waste disposal are fully and properly resolved. The ultimate goal of all of this effort is to convert the entire United States energy system to one based upon hydrogen rather than petroleum. Accomplishing this goal would totally solve all energy independence issues as well as all issues about greenhouse gasses and planet climate warming. It would solve all issues about air pollution from fossil fuel combustion. The fact is that hydrogen burns cleanly with the only byproduct being pure water.
The road to a hydrogen economy and energy independence will not be an easy one. The first foes to defeat are the oil companies themselves and those in the administration and Congress who beat the drums for them; you know, the folks who are driven by short term economic greed rather than long term good for this country and the planet as a whole.
The people of this country have the imagination and technological talent to create all that is needed. The challenge is to find the political leadership that will provide the national vision and the encouragement. We did it when we decided to put a man on the moon. We can and must do it again.