This month Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has been holding a series of public meetings around the country, seeking comments on the future of energy production from offshore areas. In New Orleans, he was met by a sizable contingent from the maritime industry. It should surprise no one that the maritime industry supports President Barack Obama’s promise of a comprehensive energy policy for America. Whether it is offshore oil, gas or wind farm production, American workboats will carry everything back and forth from land. Given the number of American crew members needed to run the offshore boats, the local shipyards and the companies that supply the need of the offshore activities, offshore energy production brings an enormous economic boost to coastal communities.[IMGCAP(1)]It is still too early to expect the administration to have a fully formed policy on energy, but at the moment, America’s approach to energy policy, as characterized by the recent hearings, is looking a little surreal. President Obama has said he will wean the country from Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil within 10 years. But that promise was missing from the public comments at the hearings, along with any sense of urgency for the challenges we face. Kicking our addiction to foreign oil may be President Obama’s boldest foreign policy goal, and one of the most necessary. Continuing to look to the Middle East and Venezuela for a third of our oil supplies is like playing dice with our economic security. And as it turns out, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez doesn’t want to sell us oil any more than we want to buy it. According to the trade publication Oil & Gas Journal, as a result of recently announced negotiations, Venezuela intends to sell to China most of the 1.5 million barrels of oil a day that it currently exports to the United States. The magazine quotes Chavez as saying, “God put the oil that China needs for the next 200 years in Venezuela.—Ultimately Congress will need to help shape our energy future. If members are serious about reducing our dependence on foreign oil, green power proponents must be more honest in the debate about what is feasible if we are to maintain our standard of living. The simple fact is we can’t get there through conservation and alternative energy alone. Perhaps over time we can cut fossil fuels from our energy diet, but for the next 10 to 20 years, we need to increase our use of domestic oil and natural gas, and that means looking offshore. Offshore natural gas gives us a clean source of fuel in large quantities. With a little luck, offshore oil resources may meet our domestic oil needs for a decade. How we use those resources has to be a key part of Congress’s strategy for dealing with our energy future. If Congress chooses to make those resources available, we have the ability to very quickly give an economic boost to our coastal regions and create additional American jobs. We can ensure that America receives energy it will need, and that Americans receive the jobs that offshore expansion will bring. We can also ensure that drilling is done under the strict environmental protection standards of U.S. law. On the other hand, if we choose to just lock away our offshore areas and make their resources off-limits, we will have squandered our bridge to the future. We will also have once again sent a message to the world that, just as with our deficit reduction plans and our drug policies, America is willing to preach, but it is not willing to make the tough choices that it takes to lead.Ken Wells is president of the Offshore Marine Service Association.