Congress should clear path for energy

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 19, 2009

Congress is infamous for its slow response to looming crises. While in some cases a delayed response allows for contemplation and ensures legislation is measured and appropriate, delay can also prolong the problem at a hefty cost.

Last year, our country was in the midst of an energy crisis. Mississippians were paying nearly $4 for a gallon of gasoline, and their utility bills were skyrocketing.

Our energy problems have not gone away, and the early signs of a similar situation are already resurfacing. Now is the time for Congress to develop comprehensive legislation so we can stave off another energy crisis.

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Last week, Senate Republicans had a hearing on producing more American energy. While we need to continue developing alternative energy sources like wind, solar, and biomass, the cornerstone of any new proposal must include exploration of our offshore resources and the expansion of nuclear power.

Clean energy

Environmental groups and the Obama Administration have been focused solely on alternative energy, commonly referred to as green energy. The reality is these sources can only provide for a fraction of our energy needs.

That is why we cannot focus exclusively on developing alternative energy. Instead, we must have a balanced approach that expands our existing resources, which have a proven record of success, and supplement that with alternative energy.

The first step is to build more nuclear power plants in our country. Nuclear energy generates electricity without producing greenhouse gas emissions and has a minimal impact on the climate. Additionally the construction of nuclear plants would provide a much needed boost for our economy.

The Nuclear Energy Institute estimates that building 45 new nuclear plants in America will generate up to 128,000 construction jobs and would create up to 32,000 high paying permanent jobs.

This economic impact is significant, and it is why I am joining my colleague from Tennessee, Sen. Lamar Alexander in calling for 100 new nuclear reactors by 2030.

While this might sound aggressive, the United States has not built a new plant in 30 years. Yet Japan is constructing one new plant a year and China has at least 24 new plants under way.

Unlocking America’s energy

The United States should not stop at nuclear power. We must unlock our existing energy resources. Last fall, Congress removed a decades-old ban on offshore oil and gas drilling and authorized the exploration of oil shale, but the Obama Administration quickly has put these projects on hold.

In a setback for advocates of increased domestic energy production, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar moved to delay action on increased drilling off America’s coasts.

The U.S. Interior Department estimates there are 19 billion barrels of oil currently off-limits to production in our nation’s deep waters. This equals the amount of oil we have imported from Persian Gulf countries over the last 15 years. We should be able to develop our own oil resources.

Secretary Salazar has also shown reluctance to develop oil shale in the Rocky Mountain West. There are an estimated two trillion barrels of oil in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — more than three times the oil reserves in Saudi Arabia, but this administration has no desire to unlock these untapped resources.


If the administration continues to halt the expansion of our energy supply or if they are successful in their cap-and-trade proposal — which is nothing more than a trickle down energy tax — then every American will feel the impact of these policies advocated by extreme environmental groups.

Energy is one of the great equalizers in our country.

Affordable and accessible energy provides an elderly couple living on a fixed income in Mississippi the opportunity to have their house at the same temperature as Warren Buffett’s mansion. Our government cannot cave to a far-left environmental agenda and make energy a commodity only the rich can afford.

Congress has begun to hold hearings and an energy bill seems imminent.

I hope any energy legislation will expand our nuclear power plants, unlock our domestic energy resources, and truly provide affordable and accessible energy for all Americans.

Roger Wicker is a U.S. senator representing Mississippi.