Archive for Saturday, November 19, 2005

Simons: U.S. must get serious about its energy independence

November 19, 2005

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The debate on the reasons the United States became engaged in the Iraq war and, to a lesser extent, the Afghanistan war is heating up in Washington with Democrats using every opportunity and every argument to try to damage the Bush presidency.

Saturday Columns

This debate is becoming personal, bitter and so mean that many extremely important matters of national concern are being pushed to the background. Matters such as what to do about the increasing number of illegal immigrants, the badly flawed Social Security system, medical care issues and many other challenges are not receiving the attention they deserve. Unfortunately, what attention they are receiving is based more on political partisanship than on what is in the best interests of the country.

Various individuals within the Bush administration offer numerous reasons and justifications for our presence in Iraq. The "war" against terrorism is the primary reason along with the idea it is better to fight this fight now, in some other part of the world than to wait until terrorism gains a foothold on American soil.

Many question whether there ever can be peace in the Middle East, where there are such historic religious differences and vast reserves of oil that represent huge riches and strategic political clout.

Some have suggested the oil situation really triggered Uncle Sam's military entrance into this part of the world. This question is sure to be debated for some time. However, there is little question that energy is one of the most critical challenges facing this nation and the rest of the world. What will be used in the years ahead to meet the ever-growing demand for more energy in the United States and throughout the world?

This pending crisis has been expected for years, but relatively little has been done to try to solve the problem. Neither Republican nor Democratic presidents have done much in this area, and members of Congress have not compiled a sparkling record on this issue.

About the only answer offered out of Washington is "conservation," whether it is cutting back on the use of natural gas or making cars, homes and businesses more efficient and less reliant on petroleum-based energy sources.

There haven't been any petroleum refineries built in the United States for years, and proponents of nuclear power are shot down whenever they call for greater use of this clean, abundant source of energy. Many are discouraged by the high cost of building refineries and nuclear plants, along with environmental concerns and scare tactics used to turn the public against nuclear energy. This nation has vast supplies of coal, but this is looked upon as a dirty fuel that is bad for the environment.

Exploration for new supplies of oil, in areas such as Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and numerous other offshore locations, is fought and challenged by well-meaning but, in some cases, shortsighted environmentalists.

So, what is going to happen? Continued inaction? Or will someone have the political courage to say this country must become far more energy independent? There's been a lot of talk by a lot of people, Republicans and Democrats, but little - hardly any - positive action.

When will someone point out modern exploration techniques could be used in Alaska's ANWR area with very little damage to the area's ecology or disruption of caribou migration routes. When will increased offshore drilling be allowed? When will nuclear power be allowed to provide a significant level of energy for a large part of the country?

There are ways to meet the inevitable demand for more energy, and there are ways to reduce reliance on foreign oil. If something isn't done, the oil-rich Middle East will continue to be prized and fought over.

Conservation is important, but conservation alone is not going to get the job done. U.S. leaders must have the wisdom, courage and vision to protect this country as well as possible and not place this nation and its citizens in an increasingly vulnerable position.

Why wouldn't this be a good time for Bush, in the last few years of his presidency, when he really doesn't have to worry about stepping on toes, to take the initiative on this critical issue? State the case, make sure the public realizes the seriousness of the matter and propose specific initiatives. Force those opposed to nuclear power, those opposed to drilling in the ANWR and offshore locations, those who do not want more coal-fired plants, those who think solar energy can fill the void and all others who oppose sound measures to explain how they would make this country less reliant on foreign oil without bringing growth in this country to a virtual standstill.

Conservation is an easy cop-out but it will not come close to solving the problem. This nation cannot afford to continue to talk, talk, talk. Now is the time for positive, courageous action.

¢ Speaking of the assault on Bush by the most partisan Democrats and their effort to do anything to crush Bush and satisfy their hatred of the president, it is interesting to note that even now, when the president's public approval rating is at its lowest point, members of the Senate turned back an effort by the Bush-haters to force him to announce a timetable for withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq.

Maybe this shows talk is cheap in Washington and politicians can rant and rave, but when it comes time to vote and, thereby, be accountable, there is a far more serious approach to controversial issues. Careless talk, grandstanding and playing to a biased audience is one thing, but when it comes down to a recorded vote, some - not all, but some - of the political grandstanders suddenly become far more serious and realistic.

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