Guest Column: Securing our energy future

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114668125222723.jpg’, ”, ”);

We’ve seen the rising gas prices, we’ve heard about the ailing auto industry, and we’ve read about the risks to our climate, but all we really need to know about the dangers of America’s addiction to foreign oil comes directly from the mouth of Osama bin Laden: “Focus your operations on oil, especially in Iraq and the Gulf area, since this will cause them to die off [on their own].”

More than anything else, this comment from the world’s most-wanted terrorist represents a realization that for all of our military might and economic dominance, the Achilles heel of the most powerful country on Earth is the oil we cannot live without. Every single hour, we spend $18 million on foreign oil. It doesn’t matter if these countries are budding democracies, despotic regimes, or havens for the madrassas that plant the seeds of terror in young minds. They get our money because we need their oil.

In Iran, Islamic fundamentalists are forging ahead with their nuclear program, knowing full well that the world’s response to their actions will be influenced by our need for their oil. In Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda has been attempting attacks on that country’s poorly-defended oil refineries for years, knowing it could cause oil prices in America to reach catastrophic levels. In fact, one former CIA agent tells us that if terrorists ever succeeded in destroying an entire oil complex, it could take enough oil off the market to cause an economic catastrophe in the United States.

Meanwhile, in Illinois, commuters on the Dan Ryan Expressway and farmers in McLean County wonder how they are going to pay $3 per gallon for fuel, and communities like Galesburg and Decatur worry about the rising cost of energy’s drag on local economic growth.

In his annual State of the Union Address, the President highlighted the goal of energy independence and embraced the potential of renewable fuels to achieve it. The President proposed reducing our oil imports by 4.5 million barrels per day by 2025. We can, and must, do better than that. With technology we have on the shelves and fuels we can develop here in America, by 2025 we can reduce our oil imports by more than 7.5 million barrels per day—an amount greater than all the oil we are expected to import from the entire Middle East.

Illinoisans know that in communities like Lena and Springfield, the emergence of regional ethanol plants and E85 filling stations are displacing imported oil, creating jobs and promoting economic growth. American consumers should have their energy needs met by ethanol from Pekin and coal from Carbondale, not oil from Saudi Arabia. We shouldn’t be investing in more jobs in Bahrain, but rather in coal reserves near Benton and in the rich farmland of downstate Illinois.

Congress understands the promise of alternative fuels, and Republicans and Democrats are working together and leading the way in increasing production and use of renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Just last month, Sen. Richard Lugar—a Republican from the neighboring state of Indiana—joined me in introducing the American Fuels Act, which would define a renewed federal commitment to the growth of a domestic biofuels industry.

The American Fuels Act will make the United States less reliant on imported petroleum by focusing on three major areas: increased production of biofuels; expanded distribution of E85 and other biofuels, including biodiesel blends; and aggressive manufacturing and marketing of flex-fuel vehicles capable of handling any blend, ranging from 100 percent gasoline to 100 percent ethanol, just like millions of vehicles on our roads today. No magical breakthroughs in technology are needed—just a concerted effort on the part of our nation’s leadership to unleash the power and innovation of American investors and entrepreneurs.

If enacted, the American Fuels Act would revolutionize our economy in just 10 years, not just by liberating businesses and families from the shackles of foreign oil producers, but also by pioneering new industries in rural America that create new, good-paying jobs. We’ll give truckers, barges and locomotives a real solution to reducing transportation costs. We’ll launch a new coal-to-fuels industry and, in 10 years, increase Illinois coal production by at least one-third while creating thousands of jobs in the mines and coal-to-clean-fuels production in southern Illinois. We’ll create fuel from soybeans, animal carcasses, corn cobs, grasses, manure, and even landfill garbage. Our farmers will be known for food and for fuel, and our coal mining heritage will again be our future.

By investing in alternative fuels today, we have the opportunity to ensure that our energy future lies with Illinois’ farmers and coal reserves, not in Middle Eastern oil fields. For our economy, our environment, and most importantly—the safety and security of our nation, we need to seize this opportunity today. I know that Americans are up to the challenge.

Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is a U.S. Senator from Illinois.

From the May 3-9, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!