Campus & Community

Frosh look at energy independence

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Newly elected members of congress debate energy security at Kennedy School

U.S. energy consumption will continue to rise in the years ahead, and along with it, America’s dependence on foreign energy sources. That was the message delivered Nov. 30 by former Congressman Philip Sharp to a group of 36 congressional freshmen attending the 17th biennial Program for Newly Elected Members of Congress at the Kennedy School.

Moderating a panel on energy and national security, Sharp pointed out that the laudable goals of economic growth, environmental protection, and national security “often come into conflict with one another, and that is one of the enduring problems in getting comprehensive energy policy in the United States.”

Fellow panelist Vernon Ehlers, U.S. representative (Michigan, District 3), described how dependence on foreign oil is a security risk, and he challenged the new lawmakers to push aggressively to develop new domestic energy sources. “We are sending gazillions to countries that are not very friendly to us, some of whom are supporting terrorists, and that doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “Technologies exist today that can improve efficiency and produce clean domestic petroleum substitutes. The cost of action today is far smaller than the cost of inaction.”

Former U.S. senator Gary Hart warned the new members that “cheap oil” really isn’t as cheap as some may think, once the costs of American lives and U.S. military deployments abroad are factored into the equation.

“Is the life of my son or daughter worth losing so that my neighbor can drive his SUV?” Hart asked. “It is incumbent on all of you to tell your constituents the truth. I would wager that if the American people [were] told the truth they would be much more inclined to change their habits.”

Linda Stuntz, the former deputy secretary of energy (1989-93), told the new members that energy policy is more a regional issue than a partisan one, and urged them to work across the aisle to forge workable solutions. “You’ve got to build a coalition from the middle out to build a consensus,” she said.

Stuntz emphasized growing concerns over the rising price of natural gas, saying that “Wall Street is telling you that we have a problem with natural gas, and I would urge you to keep an eye on this.”

The new members attended sessions focusing on an array of public policy challenges – from the federal budget to terrorism – led by Kennedy School academics, practitioners, and current and former members of Congress. The program was sponsored by the Institute of Politics.