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Jindal: An American Solution for Energy Independence

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

In the wake of Republicans’ takeover of the House, many pundits are convinced that the federal government will be at a stalemate for the next two years, unable to get anything done. I believe we can—and should—do better. One area where I believe we can make significant strides with common sense solutions is in energy.

As governor of one of America’s largest oil producing states, you could reasonably assume that I’m a proponent of fossil fuels. Guilty as charged—and the 2010 oil spill off the Louisiana coast, awful as it is, hasn’t changed that.

But what may surprise you is that along with being a big supporter of fossil fuels, I’m also a big proponent of developing any and all methods of producing energy that works. I even support pursuing technologies that don’t exist yet. Not all of them will succeed, but we have to consider every option in order to make more America energy independent.

The problem is that many Washington decision makers are either seriously misinformed or willfully ignorant about energy. Republicans seem instinctively to oppose cultivating energy sources favored by the environmental movement, such as solar and wind power. Likewise, Democrats often stridently oppose the expansion of traditional energy sources such as oil, coal, and nuclear power. Here’s an idea: how about we do it all? That’s not a Republican or Democrat solution. That’s an American solution.

One green technology largely ignored by the Left is nuclear power. You heard me right, nuclear energy is in fact a green technology, and it’s one of the best options we have to simultaneously make our country’s economy grow and protect our environment. Nuclear power is safe, reliable, emission free, and can create a steady supply of energy. One reactor can produce on average as much power as thousands of wind turbines at a fraction of the cost.

There is no excuse for us to be lagging behind many other countries in nuclear power. Today we get about 20 percent of our electricity from America’s 104 nuclear power plants. But France gets 79 percent, Sweden 45 percent, South Korea 38 percent, and Belgium 56 percent of their electricity from nuclear reactors.

While conservatives need to embrace the possibilities of green energy, the Left has to also understand that the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge, ANWR, is not a four-letter word. The bottom line is this: scaling back domestic drilling, and preventing drilling in ANWR, won’t cut our use of oil and natural gas. It just means even more of our supply will come from foreign countries.

America has tremendous energy resources, but a lot of them sit under federal land. And 94 percent of federal land has been put off-limits to energy development. We have more coal than any other country, but we’re prevented from accessing a lot of it. In Alaska’s vast and frozen ANWR, we could produce an estimated 15 billion gallons of oil annually from an area roughly the size of an airport. Within ANWR, that’s the equivalent of drilling on an area the size of a postage stamp placed on a football field. The new Congress must ease our reliance on foreign oil by opening up ANWR to drilling.

We also need to access our offshore oil reserves that are currently blocked by the federal government. The Interior Department estimates the U.S. continental shelf contains 115 billion barrels of oil and 633 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That’s enough oil to fuel our country for sixteen years and enough natural gas for twenty-five years.

I’m not talking about putting oil rigs on Miami Beach—I’m simply calling for balance. Many people will point to the recent oil spill of the Deepwater Horizon rig off Louisiana as a reason to halt new offshore drilling. As one of the governors who has to deal with this mess, I’m not going to sugarcoat it—the oil spill was a tragedy, costing eleven people their lives. Thousands of square miles of ocean have been contaminated, hundreds of species may be affected, and countless fishermen have been cut off from their livelihoods. We will need to focus state and federal agencies to clean it up and make sure those responsible ultimately pay the bill. However, we shouldn’t overreact to the spill with a knee-jerk move to ban new offshore drilling.

I say let the people of each state choose whether they want offshore drilling, and let them share in the royalties if they do. We’ve been drilling off the Louisiana coast since 1947 and now produce 91 percent of the oil and 72 percent of the natural gas that comes from the Gulf of Mexico. Offshore drilling has its risks, as we’ve seen firsthand in my state. But for Louisiana it’s meant thousands of jobs and billions in revenue to help fund schools and to improve our residents’ lives in many other ways. And it’s meant more domestically produced energy for all of America. If we want to keep America strong and prosperous, we need a policy that aims for energy independence. Forget the self-serving cries from interest groups that want to favor one energy source over the other. The smart thing—the common-sense solution—is to pursue them all.

Adapted from the newly released book Leadership and Crisis (Regnery, 2010) by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

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