WASHINGTON A bipartisan group of 27 elder statesmen is sending an open letter to both presidential candidates and every member of Congress saying the country faces "a long-term energy crisis" that threatens the security and prosperity of future generations if swift action isn't taken.
The group includes Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell and six other former secretaries of state or defense, former senators of both parties and a half dozen former senior White House advisers and other Cabinet officers for both Republican and Democratic presidents.
"We must re-examine outdated and entrenched positions," the group says in the letter to be sent today to the campaigns of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and to his GOP rival, John McCain, as well as members of Congress and all 50 governors.
"Foremost we must rise above partisan differences and be united in our efforts," they wrote.
A copy of the letter was provided Tuesday to The Associated Press.
The call to action comes amid widespread anger over high energy costs from $4-plus-a-gallon gasoline to the certainty of record heating costs next winter and the prospect that America's energy priorities will have to be revamped in coming decades to address global warming.
Despite volumes of rhetoric often on largely meaningless proposals partisan disagreements have stymied action on energy issues in Congress this year.
Republicans have hammered away at opening new areas for oil and gas drilling, while Democrats have largely been targeting large oil companies for new taxes. Neither side has signaled a willingness to compromise.
That has to change, the elder statesmen wrote, focusing on the next president and members of the next Congress that will take office in January.
The open letter was the idea of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, a group affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has embraced largely Republican, pro-business approaches to dealing with energy problems. The Chamber, for example, has called for expanding domestic energy development, including opening offshore areas long off limits, and criticized new taxes on oil companies.
But retired Marine General James Jones, the institute's president, said the call to action reflects broad bipartisan views and doesn't lean on one party or the other.
"There's an energy tsunami coming, and when you see it coming you better get on top of the wave, or you're going to get crushed by it," he said in an interview.
Jones, the 40-year military veteran who has had discussions about energy with both Obama and McCain, said he hoped the letter's sense of urgency will influence both campaigns. "Both candidates are still embryonic in their thinking about this," he said.
It's not only politicians who are faulted in the critique.
"We demand more energy and complain about high prices, but we restrict energy exploration and production. We embrace the promise of energy efficiency, but we are slow to make adjustments in our energy-intensive lifestyles," the letter says.
Production of electricity, for example, is taken "almost for granted." At the same time, people oppose new power plants and don't want to invest adequately in energy technology research, the writers say.
Thomas "Mack" McLarty, former White House chief of staff to President Clinton, said the letter emphasizes that "the next president is going to have to put energy right at the top of his agenda" and do it quickly.
"There will be a window there to build bipartisan consensus to move forward," McLarty said in an interview.
The letter includes 13 broad recommendations. They include aggressively promoting energy efficiency and reducing energy consumption, increased commitments to both nuclear energy and renewable energy sources, making coal more environmentally acceptable and moving transportation away from oil as a fuel.
Other senders of the letter include former Secretaries of State James A. Baker and George Shultz, former Defense Secretaries Frank Carlucci, William Cohen, William Perry and James Schlesinger; former senior White House advisers Howard Baker, Robert "Bud" McFarlane, Kenneth Duberstein and Brent Scowcroft; former Energy Secretaries James Watkins and Spencer Abraham; former CIA Director James Woolsey; former Commerce Secretary Donald Evans; former Democratic Sens. J. Bennett Johnston, Sam Nunn and Charles Robb; and former Republican Sen. George Allen.