Much like President John F. Kennedy set a goal to go to the moon, Rep. Heath Shuler believes it’s time for the country to set its sights on another lofty goal.
In an Aug. 21 speech to approximately 80 members of the local Council of Independent Business Owners at the Country Club of Asheville, Shuler said that one key objective would be to reform the nation’s health-care system. But he called for individuals and members of both major political parties to place an intense focus on planning for the long-term goal of energy independence. Such a goal would not only help wean the nation from foreign-oil dependence and help clean up the environment by focusing on conservation and cleaner, alternative fuels, he argued, it also should serve as an economic catalyst—especially in Western North Carolina, which is fast becoming a center for energy-technology innovation.
Shuler decried the Senate’s recent gutting of an energy-efficiency bill that would have expanded and created incentives and tax breaks for businesses and individuals to make use of alternative energy, such as solar power.
One ray of hope, he said, is the so-called “Pickens Plan.” Shuler noted that he came away impressed after recently speaking with the Oklahoma billionaire and oilman T. Boone Pickens, who is financing a PR effort to at least tackle the energy issue in the short term.
Pickens, who calls the United States, and especially the Plains states, “the Saudia Arabia of wind,” is pushing for new wind-generation facilities that could produce 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and allow the country to use abundant, cheap, clean-burning natural gas as a transportation fuel. The combination of these domestic energies can replace more than one-third of the country’s foreign-oil imports, according to Pickens. “And we can do it all in 10 years,” he has said.
Some in the audience, however, called for relief now, through expanded drilling and oil exploration. “We can’t drill our way out of this problem,” responded Shuler, who urged the audience to think long-term. Shuler said oil companies are already sitting on proven reserves of oil that they have elected not to tap for financially selfish reasons. Those reserves are held as assets that rise in value on company balance sheets as the cost of crude continues to escalate. And even if those reserves, which oil companies are already permitted to drill for on public lands, were tapped, there is only so much refining capacity to turn the crude into fuels, Shuler argued.
“We have already depleted more than 50 percent of the world’s petroleum,” he said. “I’m not looking at this generation specifically. I want to look [ahead] three or four or five generations. … We have to make a difference today, and that’s with a very comprehensive, long-term plan. It’s got to be long-term and it’s got to be sustainable.”