The nation needs a new energy policy. We need to have national planning, national funding and national direction. We cannot depend on the private sector alone.
The rest of the world is moving forward while we are lagging.
Federal leadership and public-private partnership have been our modus operandi from the beginning. Here is the history:
Early on, when our nation needed transportation the states and/or the federal government paid for canals. Later, Republican President Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of a terrible civil war, nevertheless pushed for a transcontinental railroad system.
The Panama Canal was another major government project pushed by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt.
In more recent times, even as the nation's economy crumbled into the Great Depression, Republican President Herbert Hoover sponsored a mighty hydroelectric project, now named Hoover Dam.
We still use that source of energy.
A little later, under Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt, we entered into a public/private partnership called the Tennessee Valley Authority. The various projects of that authority, including several hydroelectric installations, lifted the entire area out of poverty.
That region still reaps the benefits.
We all use the Interstate Highway System for travel, and much of our commerce depends on it. This was another federal government project sponsored by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Eisenhower also began and his Democratic successors, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, continued our monumental space program.
But what have we done lately? Nothing.
It is generally accepted that our national electrical grid is grossly inadequate, and a major hindrance to our inevitable move to electricity as our major source of energy. The power of the sun, the power of the wind and the flow of water through rivers and in the tides are all inexhaustible. There lies our energy future in the long term.
We need a president and a Congress who will move to electrify the country in a new way, both in sources and in distribution. We have too much timidity in the halls of Congress and in the White House. The Congress in particular worries too much about the cost of moving forward, and ignores the much greater cost of inaction.
As every businessman knows, sometimes you have to spend some money to make some money.
Now how do we come up with the money? We could examine how previous administrations financed projects like the Hoover Dam, the Tennessee Valley Authority or the Interstate Highway System.
But it is noteworthy that they didn't finance them by cutting taxes. Hoover raised the top rate to 65 percent, and Eisenhower left the wartime rate of 92 percent in place. But now we have a tax system where Warren Buffett pays a lower net rate than his secretary.
Big oil companies and General Electric pay no taxes at all. And those of us in the middle class pay less in federal taxes as a percent of income then we did during the prosperous Clinton years. That is not the perception, but that is the reality.
What about budget cuts? The federal budget cuts that are most needed are the ones that most politicians shy away from.
We spend more on defense than the next 10 highest national military budgets combined. No one can credibly explain why.
Raising taxes is never popular, but national leadership sometimes requires unpopular actions. We have to pay our bills. And we have to prepare for our energy needs in the future.
The problem won't go away.
Our stocks of oil, natural gas, even coal will eventually be depleted. Then what?
We need a national energy project now, centered on electricity and the inexhaustible sources of electrical energy: wind, solar radiation and the flow of water, both rivers and tides. To neglect this task is to invite national disaster over the long term.