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Road to energy independence goes through ANWR, Keystone

Sometimes, it is worth our time to step back, to take the long view about seemingly intractable issues affecting our country.

My long view begins with the gas line days of 1973-74, when a recently minted owner of a 1966 Ford Falcon began the daily commute between his home in Arbutus and Gilman School in Roland Park. Domestically, huge price hikes at the pump and draconian gas rationing (remember the "even-odd" license plate system?) nearly destroyed new automobile sales, a crushing burden for a father employed as a "commission only" car salesman. Fortunately, the Ehrlichs survived; we also took note as our elected leaders promised that "never again" would an OPEC cartel impose its will on a defenseless America; "never again" would hostile regimes be able to inflict such damage on the world's most vibrant economy.

Subsequent years have brought great turmoil to the oil-producing nations of the Middle East: periodic wars, the emergence of radical Islam, the Arab Spring (results still to be determined), and ever-increasing tensions with Israel, to name just a few.

What has not changed is America's continued reliance on sources of oil from increasingly unstable (and sometimes unfriendly) nations. This fact of energy policy life represents a monumental failure of political will. It also invites further instability in an unsettled region. Today, the world watches nervously as Iran again escalates its saber rattling ways in the Gulf of Hormuz.

A series of major domestic policy failures is to blame. And an inconvenient truth is at the center of the controversy: Our economy's ability to grow new jobs depends on available and inexpensive sources of energy. For the foreseeable future, those sources (primarily natural gas and oil) are fossil fuel driven. An additional inconvenient fact: The green jobs revolution so ardently promoted by progressives is not occurring anytime soon; wind, solar and biodiesel must be promoted and explored but will not produce the source supply required to sustain a growing economy over the next 10-20 years.

Reminders of our ongoing failure to secure energy independence are again in our daily news cycle.

The first concerns our continued unwillingness to explore an area estimated to produce greater than 1 million barrels of oil a day and 150 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year beneath the North Slope of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The land was purchased for oil and natural gas development by President Jimmy Carter and Congress. As a member of Congress assigned to the Commerce Committee, I visited the proposed development site to learn firsthand about the issue. The proposed drilling footprint is small (less than 3 percent of ANWR's total acreage) under a House passed bill earlier this year. The area is predominantly dreary, barren wasteland. Indeed, the area is not designated as wilderness. Yet, the North Slope remains untouched to this day.

The Obama administration's recent decision to deny approval of the extraordinarily important Keystone XL Pipeline project is equally egregious. The exhaustively researched project would run from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast. It would create thousands of new jobs. It represents a significant source of new supply from our friendly northern ally. Yet, the president decides to (again) placate the environmental left. Hence, another example of sound science and the national interest compromised by a small but vocal minority.

Politicians (as opposed to leaders) love to spout off about the need for energy security and environmental protection. The platitudes only proliferate during campaign season. Such pronouncements don't mean much when not backed up by action.

Some on the right contend the folks currently in charge of environmental policy are quietly pleased to see gas heading toward $4 per gallon. Such "anti-growthers" abhor consumption. They ask why America should be so different from Europe, where the price of gasoline in Germany recently topped $8 per gallon. A few, such as former "green czar" Van Jones, have been quite open in their dislike for cheaper oil. If this indeed represents the president's views, he should state and try to defend them.

Americans have had enough of the histrionics that accompany difficult environmental decisions. The country is weary of oil-related considerations that weigh on foreign policy decisions. "Blood for oil" debates are divisive. They weaken our national resolve.

We deserve energy independence. Our economic and strategic security depend on it. It's time to act.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around," a book about national politics. His email is ehrlichcolumn@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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