Nov 08 2009

Becoming Energy Independent, Cleaning our Environment

Our nation stands at a crossroads as many significant issues have been ignored for decades. Among them is energy independence and passing along a cleaner environment to future generations.

As a conservative, I have always believed we can and should be better stewards of God's creation. I also know we can strengthen our economy and national security by becoming energy independent.

Last year we spent more than $440 billion on foreign oil and now find ourselves more dependent on overseas supplies than at any other time in our nation's history. Sometimes our money even goes to fund enemies bent on our destruction.

And who will ever forget last years $4 a gallon gas? America has been held hostage by foreign cartels far too long and it's now time we do something about it.

The climate change debate affords us a prime opportunity to address these issues in a way that benefits our economy, national security and environment. Even a long-time skeptic, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has called for, "a new conversation" and believes there is now, "a solid, workable, commonsense foundation" on which to craft a bill.

Energy Independence Impact on South Carolina

South Carolina, through its many investments in research and technology, has a golden opportunity to lead the pack in an emerging green energy economy. And our state - which trails in many areas - is uniquely positioned to be one of the states to benefit the most from clean energy legislation.

In the Upstate, General Electric is leading the way in alternative energy sources by manufacturing windmill turbines. Clemson University's ICAR has an opportunity to be the national model for producing the car of the future. The University of South Carolina is on the cutting-edge in hydrogen fuel cell energy. We have ongoing bio-mass and alternative fuel research making real progress in the Pee Dee region.

Most importantly, a green economy can lead to a renaissance in nuclear energy - a field in which South Carolina has the workforce and expertise to excel. To clean up our environment, we must reinvigorate nuclear energy - the largest source of carbon-free energy worldwide.

For more than three decades our nation has refused to build and operate new nuclear power plants. Several companies have already made it clear they would like to construct at least four new nuclear reactors in South Carolina (we have seven already).

Almost half of the electricity generated in our state comes from nuclear energy. Climate change legislation provides us the opportunity to include strong, pro-nuclear provisions that ensure these facilities, and more, are built and operational.

Finally, I believe climate change legislation should open additional regions to responsible offshore drilling. If our state consented to drilling off our shores beyond the horizon, South Carolina would share in the revenues. Every barrel we find here at home is one less we import from overseas. Let's turn "Drill Here Drill Now" from a slogan into reality.

Empowering Unelected Bureaucrats is not Conservative

We also need legislation to provide regulatory certainty to our state's business community. If Congress does not act, unelected bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will issue regulations controlling carbon emissions.   In the U.S. Supreme Court's 2007 decision Massachusetts v. EPA, the Court ruled carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases should be regulated as pollutants under the Clean Air Act. 

EPA regulation of carbon is the worst possible scenario.  The EPA will destroy jobs and contain no new provisions for expanded nuclear energy or offshore drilling.

Regardless of whether you view climate change as a real threat or some grand hoax, carbon will eventually be regulated - either through congressional action or by the EPA.

Carbon Pollution is a Real Concern

I am not a scientist and do not claim to have all the answers. I can only speak from my own observations, personal experiences, and travels, particularly the Arctic Circle. They lead me to one conclusion - pollution from carbon is doing harm to our environment.

In this debate, I have set aside the extremes - those who offer doom-and-gloom street corner prophecies and those who refuse to even entertain the thought that our current way of doing business is harming our environment in any way.

Both sides prefer to talk past each other. They have yet to embrace the fact that if we work together, we can balance environmental protection with the needs of business. The Boxer-Kerry legislation and Waxman-Markey, as currently written, both fall short of the mark.

There is a pathway forward - if we choose to take it -- that creates sound environmental policy, promotes job creation and frees our nation from dependency on foreign oil. An added benefit is that many of the solutions to the problem will be found right here in South Carolina.

It's time we step up and take the lead.

(This oped began running in South Carolina newspapers on Sunday, November 8.)