Alfonse D'Amato

On energy, U.S. should develop all sources

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In a little-reported but major milestone, the United States recently became the No. 1 oil producer in the world. Despite the usual outcries of naysayers and enviro-alarmists, I believe that America’s growing energy independence will ultimately be good for both our economy and the environment.

For decades, America was addicted to foreign oil produced in the Middle East, a caldron of political instability and radical Islam. Every time conflict roiled that unstable region, U.S. energy consumers were held hostage to fuel shortages and sharp spikes in energy prices. From Iran’s revolution to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, each round of tumult inflicted serious damage on America’s economy.

Worse yet, oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia used much of their petroleum wealth to underwrite Islamic extremists bent on terrorizing America. Let’s remember that 15 of the 19 terrorists who attacked New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, came from Saudi Arabia. They had been radicalized in Wahhabism in mosques led by imams directly subsidized by the Saudi government. In a very real sense, U.S. oil dollars sent to Saudi Arabia paid for the 9/11 attacks.

The fact that America now produces enough oil to meet our domestic needs is a stabilizing force in the world. Our energy independence means we’re not sending billions of dollars to authoritarian countries that underwrite our enemies. Instead, those dollars are staying in America, benefiting our trade balance and strengthening our economic competitiveness while paying good wages to 6.5 million Americans who work in the energy sector.

And America’s energy boon extends beyond pumping more crude oil. Over the last few decades there’s been a huge increase in natural gas production across our country. In addition to the economic benefits domestic gas drilling provides, it’s also been very good for our environment. That’s because natural gas has displaced coal as a major energy source for the production of electricity.

Most Americans may not be aware that by burning more gas and less coal, American electrical generating facilities have significantly cut harmful air pollution. One of the great ironies is that the U.S. is the only major national energy consumer that has reduced CO2 emissions in recent years. Neither Europe nor China nor India has done that, and all of them continue to burn large amounts of coal and build hundreds of new coal-fired electrical plants each year. And in the developing world, where over a billion people still live without electricity, countries will continue to burn coal to generate electricity.

So where should U.S. energy policy lead in the next decades and beyond? I’d like to see America further strengthen our energy independence and diversity, generating energy from both traditional and alternative sources. When it comes to U.S. energy policy and which energy sources to pursue, I believe the answer is “all of the above.”

But that will require setting aside the straitjacketed political arguments advanced by environmentalists and opening America up to all viable means of producing energy. The Green New Deal advanced by those on the far left may sound catchy, but it would leave gaping holes in our energy future to fit the narrow ideological views of its proponents.

Let’s begin with nuclear power, a carbon-free energy source that already provides 20 percent of U.S. electrical generating capacity. Shortsighted Green New Dealers would completely phase out nuclear power production, rather than follow promising new technological developments that could lower the cost and increase the safety of nuclear reactor design. They insist that we “follow the science” when it comes to climate change but abandon it when it comes to improving and advancing nuclear energy that would continue to help lower CO2 emissions.

Other promising energy-producing technologies also deserve more consideration. One that would address two big challenges is “waste-to-energy” electrical generation. Garbage landfills everywhere are bursting at their seams. And much of the recyclable paper and plastic waste we separate out of the waste stream is piling up, with no buyers. But this waste is potential fuel. Before enviros go bonkers, they should remove their blinders and look to successfully advanced waste-to-energy technology.

Last but not least, the U.S. should continue to develop solar and wind power. While these alternative energy sources currently provide 10 percent of U.S. energy production, as solar panel and wind turbine costs continue to drop, they can generate more electrical power in the future. But these intermittent power sources, which depend on sun and wind, will continue to require backup.

Which takes us back to “all of the above.”

Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.