If rational decisions aren't made soon to resolve differences over national energy issues, the U.S. economy and influence could be seriously crippled, and terrorist threats may escalate. If we are serious about achieving energy independence, we must recognize the difficulty of successfully executing any major energy development, whether it's a coal or nuclear plant, an oil refinery, a liquefied natural gas terminal or an electrical transmission line.
The United States has failed to build a new nuclear power plant or major oil refinery in the past three decades. Experience shows no matter how essential the project and how many American jobs it will create, when differences arise, energy development naysayers usually win.
The culture of obstructionism has become a scourge upon energy development, and vital projects and infrastructure improvements are delayed or abandoned when conflict arises. The electric-power sector has more than its share of naysayers. Resistance to new power plants and transmission lines is so commonplace that North American Electric Reliability Corp. (the agency that oversees the U.S. power grid) warns that system capacity is inadequate and power outages will become common. Electrical demand in the United States will increase 29 percent by 2030, but opponents are blocking construction of new base-load power plants.
Americans expect reliable electricity supplies for their homes, jobs and economy. We confront fierce international trade competition exacerbated by sagging confidence in our industries and financial institutions. So bold political leadership and action is needed to break our gridlock over energy development and infrastructure improvements.
The cost of imported oil exceeds $2 billion a day that accrues to countries like Venezuela, Russia and Nigeria, which are hostile to U.S. interests.
We must develop clean-coal technology and revive nuclear power in this country. Both are essential for hybrid electric vehicles that can be charged when capacity and lower cost are available.
Tragically, no rational national energy plan exists. Yet we must resolve our differences. Successful resolution of conflicts between industries and environmental groups makes it clear that protracted conflict is neither desirable nor productive. All sides must recognize that our country's greatest assets are our technological innovation and talented work force, and no single strategy can or will resolve our energy crisis.
Some naively believe that energy efficiency, conservation and alternative energy sources negate the need to build more electrical power plants, increase domestic oil and natural gas production or improve power transmission grids. These people are wrong.We must strengthen our country's energy infrastructure. Volatile energy prices will stabilize only when domestic energy supplies provide a major, reliable share of consumption. But this requires every available national resource nuclear energy, clean coal, oil and natural gas, hydro, solar and wind. Only then can we build a stable economy, achieve our environmental aspirations and secure energy independence.
Gary M. Sandquist is a professor emeritus at the University of Utah.