Call For a New Energy Policy Centered Around Renewables
What if a single strategy could help boost rural Colorado, broaden our nation's economic base, bolster American security, reduce worldwide poverty and address global warming? New energy policies and technologies are that opportunity, and we must summon the political will to harness them in service of our state, national and global future.
A national energy independence policy that emphasizes renewable energy and energy efficiency is a win-win-win-win proposition: It will make us more secure by reducing our dangerous dependence on imported oil. It will enhance Colorado's reputation and economic base as a leader in developing biofuels, wind energy, solar power and other renewables. Because energy is the key to economic development in every nation, it will help alleviate poverty worldwide. And it will reduce the threat that global warming poses to God's creation, which we have a moral obligation to protect for our children and our grandchildren.
More than 30 years after the Arab oil embargo of 1973, we are more dependent than ever on imported oil:
U.S. oil imports have doubled in the past three decades, to almost 60 percent of the oil we use - increasing our vulnerability to price spikes and supply disruptions;
We can't produce our way to energy security - America consumes 25 percent of the world's oil but has just 3 percent of its reserves;
OPEC countries, particularly in the volatile Middle East, control most of the world's oil - with more than two-thirds of the world's proven reserves held by countries like Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia - while only 9 percent of the world's oil is found in reliably democratic, "free" countries;
The competition for available oil is increasing, especially from rapidly growing countries like India and China, ensuring continued price pressure. China's oil imports are up 30 percent in recent years, and that country is now the world's second leading oil consumer.
Whether measured in terms of national security or economic stability, America's energy policy is in worse shape today than in 1973.
Two responses are essential. First, we need an aggressive program to jump-start the production of biofuels (fuels that come from domestic agricultural products rather than from foreign oil). Second, we need to accelerate development of new, efficient technologies for our vehicles, homes and workplaces.
More than two-thirds of the oil Americans use goes directly into the fuel tanks of our cars and trucks. European and South American nations have demonstrated that it is possible to produce biofuels in significant quantities at competitive prices. If they can do it, we can, too.
Right now, ethanol and biodiesel are produced from crops such as corn, sugar beets, soybeans and canola seeds. Companies right here in Colorado already produce millions of gallons of biodiesel fuel each year from canola and soybean oil. Ethanol blended with gasoline is used in most vehicles, and biodiesel blended with conventional diesel is increasingly used in Colorado trucks and buses.
We must also stimulate competition for redesigned engines and vehicles that are more energy efficient and will run on biofuels and, someday, on hydrogen fuel cells. Hybrid engines that achieve 200 miles per gallon of gasoline (with the assistance of electric power and ethanol blending) are possible today. Here, too, Colorado is helping lead the way. Colorado State University's Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory will contribute to the design and testing of tomorrow's automotive engines.
If we expand our use of renewable fuels and produce more efficient engines, biofuels can supply at least 25 percent of our transportation needs within 25 years - and we should make that a national goal. By doing so:
U.S. oil consumption would drop by 3 million barrels per day, roughly the current amount of all U.S. imports from the Persian Gulf;
More than 1 million American jobs will be created; and U.S. emissions of carbon would drop by 180 million tons per year, or 10 percent, a major step toward mitigating global climate change.
We can also produce a significant portion of our electric power through renewable resources, including solar energy and wind. Solar energy already generates electricity and heats our buildings, but the potential is much greater. Cutting-edge research on solar power is being conducted at the Colorado School of Mines and at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and just this year, a team of students from the University of Colorado designed a solar-powered home that won the second Solar Decathlon, an international competition.
Wind energy will also play a large role in supplying electricity to American homes and industry. Wind turbines are springing up on Colorado's Eastern Plains, bringing both energy and economic growth to farmers and rural communities. Wind energy creates no significant adverse environmental impacts and provides electricity at competitive and predictable costs.
Finally, advancing technology allows us to look anew at coal, an energy resource that America enjoys in abundance, but which - in most of today's power plants - is very polluting. New technologies offer the potential to use coal to generate affordable and clean energy and will allow the United States and others - especially China and India - to exploit vast coal reserves in a climate-friendly fashion. Ultimately, coal may even become a low-cost source of hydrogen for fuel cells in buildings and cars. Because Colorado enjoys huge deposits of low-sulfur coal, a large role for coal in America's energy future is good news for Colorado's economy.
These innovations will enhance our national security both by reducing our dependence on imported oil and by boosting economic growth in developing nations, thereby reducing political instability around the world.
Of the world's 6 billion people, one-third lack any access to modern energy services and another third have only intermittent access. The energy-deprived are the world's impoverished, living on less than $2 per person per day. The dependence of poor nations on imported oil drains funds away from needed social investments in education, health and basic infrastructure. The ability of these nations to produce energy from their own agricultural and renewable resources will support sustainable economic growth and enhance our trade opportunities.
Once more, Colorado can lead and benefit from this movement as our state's public and private institutions have already and will continue to bring renewable energy technologies to developing nations.
In sum, new clean energy technologies present the same kind of transformative opportunity in the 21st century as the digital revolution provided in the second half of the 20th, if we will only seize that opportunity.
Happily, there are promising signs of transformation: economic, social and political forces are coming together to take us down the path of energy innovation and change. In Colorado and around the nation, farmers, industrialists, energy companies, bankers, religious movements and environmental organizations - groups that used to quarrel more than cooperate - are joining together to advocate clean, renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency.
Slowly but surely, a new era of energy exploration and development is dawning. Working together, political leaders, business leaders, agricultural producers and the American public can help hasten America's much-needed transition to a new generation of safe, clean energy, produced at home. Doing so will make us safer and more secure, create jobs and boost our rural communities, and help protect the health of the planet we all share.
Ken Salazar is the junior U.S. Senator from Colorado. He previously served as Colorado attorney general and director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Timothy E. Wirth is president of the United Nations Foundation and previously served Colorado as a congressman and senator.
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