All energy resources play important role in America’s future

May 3, 2011 By    

Every time I think I’ve reached a conclusion about the value of any fuel, some new calamity happens that changes everything and causes me to reconsider how I really feel about risk and our country’s energy security.

As I write, the world finds itself in an uncomfortable place, as we watch Japan face the worst nightmares of a major earthquake, a tsunami and compromised nuclear facilities. But it does not end there, as leaders of nations across the globe are weighing their political and strategic interests in light of the ongoing Arab Spring and its impact on oil production, refining and transportation. As a result, financial markets continue their rollercoaster rides, and fuel and food prices march ever higher.

As a consumer, I want certainty, security and affordability in the marketplace. As a citizen, I want little risk to workers and the environment to ensure health and economic opportunity for the next generations, the world over. As a voter, I tire of the political wrangling on energy issues (remember Yucca Mountain and waste disposal?) that pushes action further down the road. Balancing these risks and desires is not easy, and might not be possible. But we cannot stop trying to move beyond our current, untenable position.

Unfortunately, it seems that, unless something dire happens to us, we fear making the changes that actually might make our country more secure. Energy independence is a timeworn phrase that has been abused by both political parties for decades. Given our world markets, we will never be completely independent, and the phrase has been a red herring for a long time. But maybe, if we really think about our country’s needs in terms of security, we might be able to move forward in a way that can strengthen and broaden our domestic energy supply and production.

So let’s continue to explore oil off our own coasts, even if oil is traded on the world market. Let’s reconsider approaches to nuclear waste disposal and the latest design for nuclear plants. Let’s figure out a way to make the burning of coal cleaner. Let’s streamline our permitting processes. Let’s strengthen our oversight, as technologies allow us to go deeper for natural gas. And for goodness sakes, let’s get serious about renewable energy.

We can continue to argue about the downsides to any one fuel, for any one purpose. Some resources will, eventually, be finite. Some energy sources are difficult to store and transmit. All have some negative environmental impact, or their waste products or transportation do. There are various hurdles and time lines to bring the new technologies or production facilities online. Together, however, all of the fuels have an important role to play in America.

And let’s remember the facts: America is the largest energy consumer in the world, and our rate of consumption continues to increase faster than our rate of production. That is not likely to change anytime soon. So let’s put up wind farms where viable; strengthen incentives for solar research, development and use; acknowledge nuclear waste issues as part of the nuclear power equation; address the risks of burning coal without damning one of our greatest resources, and let’s stop claiming that one or two resources (like natural gas) are the only ones that can help meet our needs.

Like the comic strip Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Americans need to take seriously what our world would look like if we didn’t have access to oil supplies from abroad. Let’s stop demonizing specific fuels and find a way to use the right resources, on our own land, in the geography that makes the most sense. If we can’t make solar energy work in Arizona and wind farms off our coasts and in the Midwest, then shame on us.

Regardless of the choices we make, one day, we will have our own earthquake in an area we didn’t predict. Three Mile Island happened; the Gulf Coast oil leaks happened; the Exxon Valdez spill happened, and other catastrophes will happen. Mother Nature is unpredictable and humans are fallible.

But what is predictable is that a failure to make better choices to create energy security in the United States – because we fear risk – will lead to a man-made catastrophe, and that’s a risk we can’t afford.

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