Energy business as usual is not an option

Posted July 23, 2010, at 7:26 p.m.

When President Barack Obama visited Mount Desert Island last weekend, we hope he had time to listen to Maine citizens and learn what we learned. Earlier this month, we had the privilege to travel to your magnificent state and meet with a broad spectrum of community leaders in Bangor. The message was loud and clear: Energy business as usual is not an option for Maine or for our country.

Eighty percent of Maine’s homes are heated with oil. When the global price of oil skyrocketed in 2008, the price shock was felt deeply by Mainers. Given declining oil supply and increasing demand, these kinds of price shocks will continue to plague Maine and our country until we reduce our dependence on oil.

U.S. Senate leaders are considering taking up energy and climate legislation before their August recess. As a retired admiral, who co-chairs the CNA Military Advisory Board of high-ranking military leaders, and as director of the bipartisan Partnership for a Secure America, we have spent our careers focused on protecting the United States. At this moment, our fossil fuel dependence poses a threat to our national security — economically, militarily and diplomatically. In Maine and around the country, community leaders agree that we must take action now to transition to a clean and sustainable energy economy.

In 2008, we shipped $386 billion overseas to import oil. When our thirst for oil requires placing billions in the hands of regimes hostile to us, it hampers foreign policy decision-making, reduces America’s leverage internationally, and, paradoxically, results in funding both sides of the global fight against terrorism.

Moreover, our fossil fuel addiction hastens climate change, causing increased shortages of food, water and arable land worldwide, which our military leaders have identified as a key national security threat multiplier. Such economic and resource degradation destabilizes fragile countries, leads to more armed conflict and humanitarian crises, and ultimately increases pressure to send American troops into harm’s way.

Producing our own fossil fuels to meet our nation’s needs isn’t the solution. The U.S. consumes 25 percent of the oil produced in the world each year, while only controlling 3 percent of known reserves. We cannot drill ourselves out of the national security problems caused by oil dependence. And as the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico illustrates, our oil consumption comes with costs to our environment and to the people who rely on it for their livelihoods.

It is also clear that our pattern of energy use is responsible, in large part, for our economic situation today. Over the last few decades fossil fuel prices have fluctuated wildly, in large part because of increasing demand and decreasing supply. Oil has jumped as high as $140 a barrel — sending prices at the pump upwards of $4 a gallon for gasoline at times.

Meanwhile, the global market potential for clean energy technologies is more than $180 billion annually, according to government estimates. China is spending $12.6 million every hour on clean energy investments, leading the world in production of wind turbines and solar panels, and coming on strong in advanced vehicle and battery technologies. If we don’t move quickly to capture this market, others will.

No doubt, it seems daunting to tackle these problems as the U.S. tries to emerge from its worst economic crisis in decades. But moving to a clean-energy future is a critical part of the solution — charting a path of economic opportunity that will result in a more secure, sustainable future for our nation. And from our recent visit to Maine, it is clear that the state is well-positioned to lead in shaping America’s future energy use. From the pace-setting renewable portfolio standard, to participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, to the carbon reduction commitments of the naval shipyard Bath Iron Works, Maine has shown real leadership in capturing the economic opportunity promised by clean energy development.

National security leaders from both political parties know we cannot afford the cost of inaction — or worse, meaningless action — on our current energy posture. America must take bold, decisive action to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. By moving swiftly to promote clean energy development and climate stability, the state whose “Dirigo” motto means “I lead” can help lead this country’s transition into its next era of sustained security and prosperity.

Dennis McGinn, a retired Navy vice admiral, is a member of the Military Advisory Board of CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization. Joy Drucker is executive director of the Partnership for a Secure America.

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