A pathway to energy independence

Friday, December 2, 2005

By U.S. Senator Jim Talent

Missourians understand the importance of having a comprehensive energy plan because we are all energy consumers. We want access to affordable fuel so we can get to work in the morning, drive the kids to school and visit with family and friends. We don't want anyone to sacrifice their quality of life for the cost of heating their home. We know higher energy costs mean higher prices for goods and services. That's why the Energy bill the Senate passed this summer was a critical step in the effort to pass pro-jobs, pro-growth, pro-production Energy policies for Missouri and the country.

One of my priorities in the Energy bill was the Renewable Fuels Standard which will add 7.5 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol, soybean-based biodiesel and other renewables to the nation's fuel supply by 2012. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and I successfully added the Renewable Fuels Standard to the legislation in the Senate Energy Committee. The oil companies opposed the new ethanol and biodiesel standard, but the idea of growing our own fuel was so powerful that we carried it with overwhelming bipartisan support in Committee. The measure was strongly supported by the Missouri Farm Bureau, the Missouri Corn Growers, the Missouri Soybean Association and the Renewable Fuels Association, all of which have fought for years to establish the nation's first-ever standard for ethanol and biodiesel. In fact, the Renewable Fuels Standard is one of the reasons the Energy bill, which had stalled in Congress for four years, passed 74-26 in the Senate and was signed into law.

I am a huge believer that the fuels we get from corn, soybeans and other renewable sources will help replace petroleum-based gasoline, but we are still going to need oil and it makes sense to produce energy of our own. This includes not only oil, but also natural gas, of which we have enough untapped supply to heat 60 million homes for over 120 years, and coal, of which we have a 250-year supply and the technology to use it cleanly.

We took a major first step down this path to energy independence when the Senate recently voted to allow for the exploration of oil in a small, but resource-rich portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

The ANWR is the single greatest prospect for onshore oil and gas development anywhere in the U.S. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the ANWR contains a mean expected value of 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil. At peak production, the ANWR could produce nearly 1 million barrels of oil per day, more than any U.S. state, including Texas and Louisiana.

In addition to increasing our energy independence, exploring for oil in the ANWR also means jobs for Missourians. An estimated 14,000 new jobs will be created in Missouri alone because of the related jobs in our state. That is one of the reasons so many business and labor groups support the proposal.

Concerns have been raised about the environment, and if we were not requiring the oil exploration to be done in an environmentally-sensitive way, I would not support it. But the same people who raise those concerns place tremendous confidence in the ability of American technology to create alternative sources of energy such as hydrogen and wind. But for those who believe as I do that technology can get us to that point, then we must also conclude that the right technology can also allow us to explore for oil in a way that will be sensitive to the environment.

The ANWR plan passed by the Senate requires that no more than 2,000 acres out of the 19-million-acre refuge can be used for energy production. This small amount of Alaska's vast coastal plain is roughly the size of Lambert Airport in St. Louis. If we don't get the oil in the Arctic using the most environmentally sensitive means, we will have to import it from countries where I have no confidence in what they are doing to the environment.

Concerns have also been raised that the oil companies would take the oil we get from the ANWR and export it to other countries. To prevent this from happening, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and I added an amendment to the proposal that would make certain the oil we access in the ANWR is used only domestically.

This will protect our energy security because it will be a very important hedge against foreign boycotts or threats or oil blackmail that somebody may want to use against the United States.

We shouldn't cut ourselves off from our own resources when the alternative is greater dependence on foreign oil and energy shortages that can cripple our economy. We can do it the right way. We should have done it a long time ago, and we certainly should do it now.

Missouri's U.S. Senator Jim Talent serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is co-chair of the Senate Biofuels Caucus.