Energy Issue Is Also a National Security Issue

Posted April 20, 2007 at 3:49pm

Spring is here and as the temperatures rise, so do the gas prices. As Americans begin to realize an increased dent in their wallets when filling up at the pumps, there are growing concerns about our nation’s energy future. It’s obvious that the United States’ dependence on foreign oil is one of the nation’s top priorities.

In the search for clean, usable sources of energy, our nation is at a critical point. We have an abundance of options for achieving energy independence, but we have yet to take the necessary steps to turn these options into solutions. We must leave no stone unturned in our search for domestic energy sources, and we must remember it’s not just an energy issue; it’s a national security issue.

One of the most important resources available is coal. As our nation looks for domestic sources of energy, coal is the one resource both ready to use and domestically produced in large supplies. We’re all excited about the possibilities of alternative energy, and while other fossil fuels, such as natural gas and nuclear energy, will continue to play a role in our nation’s future, many of these options lack either domestic access within the U.S. or the technology needed to use them on a large scale. Coal has the ability to offer it all.

For example, my home state of Montana has the largest recoverable coal reserves in the United States. These coal reserves offer an abundance of readily available energy to American consumers from a source right in their backyard. Unfortunately, Montana currently ranks only sixth in the amount of U.S. coal energy production. With the known availability of such a large amount of coal, it’s hard to overlook its value.

Coal can and should play a major role in meeting America’s energy needs. However, we can’t begin to realize its importance until we make changes to fully utilize its potential. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 set some good ground rules to encourage new energy development in several areas. These areas include fossil fuels, renewables, conservation and nuclear energy. These ground rules set the foundation upon which the pillars of our nation’s domestic energy plan will be built. Coal is one of the critical pillars of responsible energy development.

One of the first ways we can encourage the development of clean coal technologies is by offering incentives. We need to convince potential investors that coal and clean coal technologies will be good for business. These incentives let businesses know that when they invest in coal, they aren’t doing it alone.

We also need to offer programs within our educational systems to encourage students to learn about advances in coal technology and create an interest in the coal energy field so the students of today will become the problem solvers of tomorrow. Many schools across America already may have related fields, but as the demand for new energy increases so must our ability to train professionals in these fields. Additionally, through the development of these skills, the next generation can find good, high-paying jobs in the coal industry.

Several programs have been developed to encourage clean coal development. One project is FutureGen, the world’s first coal-fired zero emissions electricity and hydrogen power plant. Through the use of advanced coal gasification technologies and carbon capture and sequestration, FutureGen offers the opportunity to use our plentiful American coal resources to meet our growing energy needs while protecting the health of our people and our environment.

House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) has introduced the Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2007. This legislation addresses Department of Energy loan guarantees for the first 10 large-scale plants and expands tax incentives for investment and production (including the infrastructure needed to sequester carbon) capped at $200 million a plant. This is a good bill that needs to become law.

To further encourage construction of these facilities, Congress also must help create a simple and streamlined process to make developing our coal resources, and permitting coal to liquids facilities, a reality. One piece of legislation I’m currently working on would create a cooperative approach between federal, state and tribal governments to develop and approve permits in a timely manner and create deadlines for permit approval.

If the U.S. is going to truly achieve energy independence, then we need to put programs in place to foster clean coal energy projects. A strong coalition of members from coal-rich states already exists in Congress, and we’re taking steps to help our states play a role in a national energy solution. Coal can lead the way in being a clean, reliable energy source for our future. Congress just needs to provide the resources to help take it there.

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) is a member of the Appropriations Committee.