Elections often produce a clearer picture of what separates us. We know today that we are divided, 50 percent – 48 percent split. Two percent: It is such a small number, but it can represent a deep divide in perspective. On the other hand, there is much that we hold in common.
We don’t need exit polls to tell us that most Americans agree that government should focus on improving the economy, creating jobs, and getting our fiscal house in order. How best to do that should be an interesting debate, especially with an “economic cliff” staring us in the face.
Our economic fix must include taking action on energy. The campaign revealed a broad consensus for expanding domestic energy resources and reducing oil imports with both presidential candidates calling for an “all of the above” energy plan. Developing and using more domestic energy will boost our economy, create good paying jobs, increase government revenues, and strengthen national security.
An “all of the above” energy policy recognizes that there is no silver bullet, and that neither Capitol Hill or the White House have a crystal ball to see into the future. Need evidence? Look no further than what has happened with domestic natural gas policy.
In the 1970s Congress thought the country was running out of natural gas and enacted policies to regulate the fuel from the drill bit to the burner tip, distorting the market. A decade later, Congress repealed most of that regulatory regime, and the market began to recover and innovate. Oh, that’s ancient history, you say.
Well, just over five years ago, when T. Boone Pickens first rolled out his plan to use more natural gas in transportation, he initially recommended replacing natural gas used to generate electricity with wind power to free up those gas supplies for heavy-duty trucks. Not even this knowledgeable oilman and successful energy trader fully anticipated the massive expansion of domestic natural gas supplies from shale formations that has literally altered the world energy market. My point: Nobody has a crystal ball.
Still, Pickens is right to encourage expanded use of alternative fuels in transportation. Doing so is essential to reducing our dangerous dependence on overseas oil imports. (We can also strengthen our energy security and create jobs by developing North America’s vast oil and natural gas reserves and authorizing the private sector to build the infrastructure required to serve our markets.)
Energy and the environment are two sides of the same policy coin, and environment issues are an indispensible part of our national energy conversation. Fortunately, displacing oil-based gasoline and diesel with alternative fuels like natural gas and propane autogas will reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases from all manner of internal combustion engines.
The challenge is how to efficiently encourage alternative fuels on a tight budget. In nations where alternative fuels have gained sustainable market share it is through policies that reward consumers, usually by reduced road and sales taxes on motor fuel. Rather than trying to pick winners and losers by law, they empower consumers to choose the alternative fuel that best meets their needs. Beyond the energy security and environmental benefits of alternative fuels, there are public health reasons to expedite deployment of cleaner vehicles. The World Health Organization earlier this year classified diesel emissions as a known carcinogen. Yet, school children all across the country are riding on tens of thousands of buses powered by diesel engines that would not meet today’s emissions standard. We are tardy in dealing with this pressing energy/environmental/health issue.
An “all of the above” energy policy can quickly become complex and certainly more than a single article, column or blog post can address. But, we have to keep the conversation moving forward. Just keep in mind one of the simplest definitions of energy: “the ability to do work.” With millions of Americans looking for work, we are blessed to have a treasure trove of domestic energy resources that can contribute to an improving economy, cleaner environment, and greater security. If we put that abundance to use, we’ll create jobs.
Roy Willis is the president and CEO of the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), a nonprofit organization that supports propane-related research and development, education, safety, and training. A former chairman of the National Energy Resources Organization, Willis is the founding chairman of the Global Technology Network of the World LP Gas Association.