Energy and our future

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Right now, the United States imports about 70% of its oil from overseas. At the same time, billions of dollars that we spend on all that foreign oil seems to end up in the bank accounts of those around the world who are openly hostile to American values and our way of life.” -Montana Gov. Brian David Schweitzer, speaking at the Democratic Party‘s national convention in Denver, Colorado.


If there‘s one shining moment to be plucked from all the political convention hoopla and blather these past few weeks, it‘s the speech by Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. Now, sure, being a politican and a Democrat, he threw verbal punches at the other party while praising his Presidential candidate (Barack Obama) to the high heavens. Yet he also managed to plant some very bold stakes in the ground about our energy policy in this country - or, more precisely, our total lack of it.


“We face a great new challenge, a world energy crisis that threatens our economy, our security, our climate and our way of life. And until we address that energy crisis, our problems will only get worse,” Schweitzer said.


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[Brian David Schweitzer, the honerable Governor of Montana.]


“Right now, the United States imports about 70% of its oil from overseas. At the same time, billions of dollars that we spend on all that foreign oil seems to end up in the bank accounts of those around the world who are openly hostile to American values and our way of life,” he added. “This costly reliance on fossil fuels threatens America and the world in other ways, too. CO2 emissions are increasing global temperatures, sea levels are rising and storms are getting worse. We need to break America‘s addiction to foreign oil. We need a new energy system that is clean, green and American-made.”


Schweitzer didn‘t stop there, though - he actually offered SOLUTIONS, of all things! Ones that do NOT hew chapter and verse to party dogma! Imagine!


“In Montana, we‘re investing in wind farms and we‘re drilling in the Bakken formation, one of the most promising oil fields in America. We‘re pursuing coal gasification with carbon sequestration and we‘re promoting greater energy efficiency in homes and offices,” he said. “The single-answer proposition is a dry well, and here‘s why. America consumes 25% of the world's oil, but has less than 3% of the reserves. You don‘t need a $2 calculator to figure that one out. There just isn‘t enough oil in America, on land or offshore, to meet America‘s full energy needs.”


BINGO! About time a politician got on national television and laid out the stark truth for all to see.


Notice, in particular, Montana‘s multi-faceted approach to energy - wind farms right alongside oil drilling next to conservation. “There‘s no single platform for energy independence,” Schweitzer said. “It‘s not a question of either wind or clean coal, solar or hydrogen, oil or geothermal. We need them all to create a strong American energy system, a system built on American innovation.”


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[GM's Chevy Volt -- an electric car with small gasoline motor -- is due to go on sale in 2010 and could really help make a permanent dent in U.S. oil consumption.]


As an aside, he also noted that when he ran for governor of Montana, he chose a Republican - John Bohlinger - to be his lieutenant governor, with a simple proposition: “We could get more done working together than we could fighting,” Schweitzer said. “Because Montana really isn‘t a red state or a blue state. As Senator Obama might put it, we‘re a united state.”


This is important because everyone on Capitol Hill these days seems to have forgotten that they aren‘t employed by the Democrat or Republican parties - they are employed by AMERICA. So instead of launching vitriolic broadsides over each other, trying to brand the other guy as the Anti-Christ or worse, maybe they should WORK TOGETHER and COMPROMISE so we can get a solid energy policy in place.


One more key factoid Schweitzer shared from the podium in Denver - the most important barrel of oil is the one you don‘t use. Sure, the Big Three - General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler - are in a world of hurt because of plummeting auto sales, especially among the big iron (pickups and sport utility vehicles) they relied on heavily for years. Yet that‘s occurring as U.S. consumers switch to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles - the ones that use less of the black stuff coming from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and the other members of OPEC [the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries].


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[Until we formulate an energy policy, OPEC will largely control our energy destiny.]


Notice, too, if you will the giant fall off in the price of oil - nearing $150 a barrel a month ago, it has plummeted to nearly $100 in recent trading. The 13 member-nations of OPEC - which controls 40% of the world‘s reserves - refused for months to raise production; Saudi Arabia in particular lectured President Bush when he came to ask for an increase in oil supplies. Then, suddenly, OPEC boosted production by 300,000 barrels per day - largely the result of a big drop in demand by the U.S. As Warren Brown, the superb automotive writer for the Washington Post put it; OPEC is a cartel of drug dealers reacting to the news that junkies are going to rehab in droves.


“OPEC is engaging in addiction marketing. It is doing now what it has done before whenever its biggest customers start getting serious about reform. It has increased production, lowered the price and made its drug of choice more accessible -- all in a bid to keep its high-paying customers hooked,” Brown said in his Aug. 17 column in the Post.


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[The great Warren Brown, automotive editor for the Washington Post newspaper.]


“OPEC knows what the drug dealers know: Addiction is so much more attractive than the hard and often painful work of cleaning up ones act. Affordable addiction is even more attractive. It dulls the senses and corrupts the will to change, to travel a different and ultimately more nationally secure route,” he said. “The questions are: Will we fall for OPEC‘s latest fix? Will we abandon the path toward energy conservation and a more energy-secure nation? Will we sell our nation and our souls for another OPEC high?”


Hopefully, if we listen to the likes of Schweitzer and stay focused as a country - Democrat, Independent and Republican alike - on reducing our reliance on petroleum imports, we‘ll develop a solid long-term energy policy that‘ll break our addiction once and for all. That's the dream -- but can we make it reality?

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