Reprinted from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In the next few weeks, the Senate will take up legislation designed to create a strategy for meeting the nation's energy challenges in the decades ahead. President Bush has submitted one plan; Democrats have countered with another. Somewhere in the middle is a strategy that will work.
The main focus of such a plan, of course, must be sharp reductions in America's addition to foreign oil -- especially foreign oil from unstable regimes in the Persian Gulf -- a goal made more urgent by the events of Sept. 11. The plan also must include strategies to improve the nation's electrical grid and the infrastructure for the use of oil and natural gas.
Such a plan will require greater exploration and development of domestic natural resources. That will mean more drilling, but not yet -- if at all -- in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as the Bush administration has proposed. Other sites should be explored before the nation violates even the small portion of the refuge that's been targeted by industry. Drilling there may someday be required, but not just yet.
A viable plan will look for ways to increase the contribution of alternative renewable sources such as wind, solar and fuel cell technologies into the nation's energy supply. But not to the level of 20 percent that's been proposed by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) Although that technology has improved, it's not that good. Trying to reach 20 percent may be laudable, but it may not be doable, and the effort would require massive taxpayer subsidies.
The right energy plan wills all for greater efficiency of electrical appliances and improved gas mileage for cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles. But such improvements will work only if consumers conserve. If they instead run their air conditioners longer and drive their cars farther because doing so don't cost them more, greater efficiency will be meaningless.
Reducing the nation's reliance on foreign oil is a job for everyone, from energy company to energy consumer. And it's a job that will require a comprehensive strategy using, in Secretary of State Colin Powell's words, all the tools in the toolbox.
Anything less would be shortsighted; worse, it would fail and leave the nation ever more at the mercy of foreign oil.