Talking about energy independence is easy on the campaign trail, but difficult for Washington policymakers, who must balance conflicting priorities in an environment in which there are no perfect solutions.
That’s the dilemma the Obama administration faces as it recalibrates the nation’s energy and environmental policies. Among the shifts announced this week are toughened fuel-efficiency standards and expanded offshore oil and gas exploration that may open up vast tracts to drilling.
We don’t agree with those environmentalists who reflexively reject any policy that supports exploration for new domestic oil sources. Expanding the domestic supply is clearly a necessity as part of any comprehensive energy policy aimed at reducing our dependence on foreign oil — much of which comes from areas like the Middle East, where the United States has intricate webs of political and economic interests. One of those interests — supporting Israel — is complicated in myriad ways by our dependence on oil supplied by its many adversaries.
No matter how much progress we make on developing alternative sources of energy, we will need fossil fuels for years to come; policies that make it harder to meet that demand can only increase our dependence on foreign sources and impede economic growth.
But it’s also true that new drilling does nothing to address the long-term crisis we face as the overall supply diminishes, pollution worsens and global warming threatens the futures of our children and grandchildren.
President Barack Obama and Congress must act decisively to ensure that expanded offshore exploration and drilling do not come at the expense of researching and developing alternative energy sources, as well as conservation.
The administration argues that new technologies will allow offshore drilling while protecting the environment, but there must be strong follow-through by Congress and by government regulators to ensure that those safeguards are not swept aside as energy companies focus on quick profits today instead of alternative technologies for tomorrow.
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