Energy independence for a strong nation

Published 7:56 pm Saturday, September 21, 2019

Last December, the United States became a net exporter of oil — breaking an almost continuous 75-year streak of dependence on foreign oil and is now the world’s eighth largest oil exporter. This was not always the case. I remember serving at the DMZ in Korea, where we only had heat three hours a day because the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries barred oil exports to the U.S. for our support of Israel — also known as the Oil Embargo of 1973. Today, we are no longer forced to rely on regimes that do not always have America’s interest as their foremost concern.

Iran is believed to be responsible for attacking a Saudi Arabian oil refinery last week, with drone and missile strikes that severely damaged the world’s oil largest supplier. The good news is our energy independence reduced the impact that these attacks could have had. If that attack had taken place in the 1970s, the price of oil would have skyrocketed. Even still, these attacks left the international benchmark for oil prices up nearly 15 percent on Monday, the largest single-day jump in nearly 30 years. These attacks reminded us of the importance of energy independence and not depending on the Middle East to power our nation.

It’s difficult to understand why we would want to reverse this remarkable revolution, but last week, House Democrats took their best shot with legislation aimed at blocking American oil and gas development. Three separate bills would have collectively blocked oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the Atlantic and Pacific Outer Continental Shelves, and the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The land Democrats targeted in ANWR is only 1/10,000th of the total acreage, but could result in 10.4 billion barrels of oil, lowering energy costs and promoting economic growth across the country. The prohibition on the sale of oil and gas leases on the OCS and the Gulf of Mexico would block billions of dollars in revenue for the Treasury. Lease sales are also the primary funding source for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is vital to funding projects that preserve our natural resources and promote outdoor recreation.

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Affordable energy is essential for economic growth and Americans’ well-being. To help make energy more affordable — and create more jobs — Congress should enact a comprehensive, all-of-the-above energy policy that includes oil, gas, coal, wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear and hydro energy. When we use our natural resources, we should be innovative in order to be environmentally-responsible. We can achieve that goal without losing our energy independence and American jobs. Instead of looking for real solutions, we are spending time discussing the “Green New Deal,” a resolution whose authors described the plan as a complete overhaul of the U.S. economy and an embrace of socialist principles. A plan that achieves “net-zero” emissions in 10 years would require the U.S. to stop producing oil, natural gas and coal — the fuel for 80 percent of our economy that provides jobs to thousands of Americans. This would devastate our economy.

As an avid outdoorsman, I love East Tennessee’s natural beauty. It is our duty to protect our natural resources, like the Appalachian Trail and the Great Smoky Mountains. Energy exploration can be complementary to protecting these resources, and it’s critical to our nation’s energy independence and to our national security. Rather than implementing more burdensome regulations that drive up costs and destroy jobs, I believe there are several realistic, commonsense changes we can and should pursue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save taxpayers money and promote job-creation.

When I served on Johnson City’s City Commission, and then as Mayor, we worked to cap the gas coming out of our landfill — mostly methane, a significant greenhouse gas — and used it to heat and cool the Mountain Home VA Medical Center, instead of burning it off into the atmosphere. We also audited all public buildings for energy efficiency and established a “Green Team” to work with entities on ways to be more environmentally friendly. Johnson City was also the first municipality in Tennessee to offer curbside recycling and we replaced stoplight and streetlight bulbs with energy efficient bulbs that save energy and taxpayer money. There are commonsense measures that could reduce emissions without sacrificing what is the strongest economy in the world. Its clear energy independence is critical to our economy, our national security and American families. Given the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia, I hope my Democrat colleagues will soon join us in working towards energy independence.