Knoxville News Sentinel: Editorial: Editorial: Compromise is key to setting energy policy

Posted on March 16, 2011

Energy crises have been a part the American landscape on and off for the past 40 years. However, it seems we have learned little, except perhaps that politicians understand they can get a lot of mileage when they complain about America's dependence on "foreign oil." Since the 1970s when gasoline prices shot up during an embargo by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Americans have talked about decreasing their dependence on oil from other nations, especially the Middle East. (During the current crisis, OPEC has ramped up production to compensate for the loss of Libyan crude.)

The early 1970s also was the time the environmental movement was hitting its stride, so there was talk about ending dependence on fossil fuels and switching to alternative forms of energy: solar, geothermal and wind power, among others.

And speaking of alternative sources of energy, credit U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander with leading the way. The Tennessee Republican last week became one of the first consumers in the state to purchase a 2011 Nissan Leaf electric car, encouraging the use of electric-powered vehicles.

If enough Americans made similar purchases, he said, "that would be the single best way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

With gasoline prices hitting an average of $3.50 per gallon nationwide last week - about $3.35 per gallon in Tennessee - Alexander's purchase was timely.

Meanwhile, those rising gasoline prices continue to capture most of the current attention. And even politicians who seriously want Americans to find alternative sources of energy acknowledge that gasoline will remain the fuel of choice in the near future.

Now, some predict that gas prices will reach $5 per gallon by the summer, and that is causing the rhetoric to rise as well. Tennessee's U.S. representatives have decried the dependence on foreign oil as well as the lack of a clear energy policy.

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, also expressed understandable concern about people in rural areas having to drive longer distances to work. Duncan chairs the House Transportation Committee's Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

An energy policy should include drilling in new areas and accelerating approval of nuclear power plants, Duncan said. U.S. Reps. Scott DesJarlais, of the 3rd District, and Phil Roe, of the 1st District, agreed. DeJarlais added that alternative forms of energy should be expanded, while Roe said the U.S. should boost the use of natural gas.

Duncan said he expects the new Republican majority in the House to begin pushing for an energy policy that includes more domestic production.

The discussion needs to begin anew and not disappear when gasoline prices fall. If the GOP majority can get it going, good for them. With the House in Republican hands and the Senate and White House controlled by Democrats, the current crisis might produce what has been lacking in the past.

That would be a compromise that gives Americans a clear, coherent energy policy, one that builds instead of blames and guides instead of guesses. That would be an achievement 40 years in the making.