In the summer of 2008 energy prices hit Americans especially hard with gas rising to $4 dollars a gallon. That made going to work, shopping, driving the children and vacations incredibly expensive, in some cases unaffordable.
While gasoline prices retreated from those high levels, they have started climbing again. America must face its energy challenges now and to do so, we must fully understand why energy prices are so volatile.
* In 1974- our last "oil shock"- the United States imported less than 25 percent of its oil. Today, we import 70 percent at a cost of $700 billion a year.
* The majority of our foreign oil comes from unfriendly or unstable nations, nearly 70 percent.
* The United States consumes almost one-quarter of the world's 85 million barrels of oil per day.
* Growing economies in China and India are using more energy.
In short, we must find other sources of energy besides petroleum. America is simply too dependent on oil, particularly foreign oil. This dependence is not only an economic or environmental issue, it is a national security risk. And, diversity of supplies is key.
If unfriendly nations such as Venezuela were to suddenly stop selling oil to the United States, costs would go up across the board. It would also be difficult to meet all our military, business, and personal energy needs. Therein is the security risk.
No source of energy, not oil, coal, or electric, can be relied on absolutely. In order to provide security, both national and financial, we must diversify our supplies. If one underperforms or cannot meet its production requirements, the effect on the energy supply is not as severe.
Understanding the problem is the easy part, but solutions will not come quickly. Now is the time to lay a foundation for energy independence. There are steps we can take as a nation to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, find cleaner energy sources, and make more sources renewable.
Since coming to Congress, I have supported:
* Substantially improving car mileage (CAFE) standards without making vehicles unaffordable to average consumers; (http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/cafe/overview.htm)
* Working to cut home and business energy usage and create incentives to conserve;
* Greater investments in solar, wind power, and other renewable energy sources.
* Making the production of biofuels cost-competitive with gasoline, but end the costly ethanol mandate;
* Building more nuclear power plants to produce usable electricity (New Jersey gets 55 percent of its power supply from nuclear);
* Constructing more oil refineries. Consider using closed military bases for this purpose;
* Ensuring that speculation in commodity markets is not artificially driving up the price of energy.
* Using innovation at the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy to help lead the way on comprehensive, clean, and renewable energy.
Over the years, I have been the champion of fusion energy research, much of which is conducted in New Jersey at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab. (http://www.pppl.gov/) Fusion energy has the potential to become an unlimited, safe, environmentally friendly and affordable energy source.
Producing alternative energy is decreasing our dependency on fossil fuels, and the U.S. must get started immediately.