A Comprehensive Approach to Addressing Our Energy Crisis
Gasoline is $4.00 a gallon here in our state, and has exceeded that in many parts of the country. Rising fuel costs are affecting every sector of our economy and causing financial strain on every individual and business in our region. It is important to note that no solution would dramatically lower fuel costs overnight. Thus, as the nation faces a serious and growing energy crisis, all options should be considered and action must be immediately taken.
I strongly believe we need to develop a consensus plan that partners the federal government with state and local officials, private industry and all interested parties to formulate a real energy strategy. Our national goal must be energy independence, so that future generations do not experience what Americans are dealing with today. To reach that goal, we must cast a wide and diverse net.
First, I believe we must increase fuel efficiency standards beyond their current mandates. In December, Congress passed the first increase in miles per gallon for automobiles in 30 years, but this won't take full affect until 2020. I supported this bill but believe we can go further, faster. The simple fact is that if Congress had approved greater fuel efficiency standards to 40 miles per gallon in the 1990s, then we would be using half the gasoline we use today. U.S. automakers are already making more fuel efficient vehicles in Europe (average of 43 mpg) and Japan (nearly 50 mpg) - we must also push for those levels here at home.
Second, cleaner energies such as solar, wind and nuclear, which are sustainable and produce no greenhouse gas emissions should be part of the plan. Successful in several European countries, the current proposals to build a significant wind farm off the coasts of Atlantic and Cape May are encouraging steps in the right direction. Already, the five windmills in Atlantic County produce enough electricity to power 2,500 homes for a year or save 11,900 barrels of crude oil annually. These are clear, readily-available alternatives.
Third, I support accelerating the development of biofuel ethanol made from wood-waste, grasses and other materials that do not divert food from domestic supplies should be part of the plan. The simple fact is that one acre of switch-grass yields 11,500 gallons of ethanol whereas one acre of corn yields 500 gallons per year. This is certainly a more viable and sensible alternative to traditional corn-based ethanol, which is expected to consume up to 35 percent of America's corn crop this year. If we fail to diversify our ethanol production, we only further contribute to the rise in food prices that are straining South Jersey families and contributing to global food shortages. We must not shift our fuel crisis into a food crisis by merely using corn-based ethanol.
Fourth, we must encourage smarter use of existing options while developing more fuel efficient technology such as hydrogen-based vehicles. Common-sense ideas such as conservation, alternate modes of transportation and mass transit ensure a greater return for consumers. Furthermore, we must seek to provide consumers with additional tax breaks for purchasing hybrid and electric vehicles, which reduce not only gasoline consumption but greenhouse gas emissions.
And finally, as part of our energy independence plan, domestic oil and natural gas production should also be explored though not in environmentally-sensitive locations. I remain opposed to drilling off of New Jersey's coastline because I do not want to expose our beach-and-tourism-based economy - a $38 billion economy annually - to possible ruin. Rather, I believe we need to look toward the more than 68 million acres across the U.S. - both on land and off-shore - already leased for oil and natural gas exploration that have yet to be explored. At peak production, it is estimated that an additional 4.8 million barrels of oil could possibly be extracted from these leased areas each day.
In the end, we must fast-track a broad-based plan with laser-type focus that employs current technology while tapping the ingenuity of researchers and private industry. We need to act with urgency to combat this long-in-the-making crisis. And we need to act in an environmentally conscious manner. The United States has only 3 percent of the world's oil reserves while it demands a staggering 25 percent of the global supply. This fact alone underscores that we cannot employ a singular approach or simply drill our way out of the energy crisis we now face. There must be a diverse and realistic approach to our nation's energy policy and that consensus approach must be reached now.