(CNSNews.com) - Contrary to some pundits, Americans are not "addicted to oil" but are instead addicted to freedom - freedom of movement especially, former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) told a large crowd of college conservatives last week.
Where others would seek to impose "Carter era" restrictions on energy supplies, Allen, a conservative, said he would strive to unleash American ingenuity and creativity to better use the nation's substantial natural resources.
In his talk on energy independence, held at the 29th Young America's Foundation conference in Washington, D.C., Allen said current restraints on exploration and development must be removed to reduce reliance on unstable foreign sources.
Groups such as the liberal Sierra Club contend that America indeed needs to unleash its creativity to harvest its own natural resources. But unlike Allen, the Sierra Club, among others, wants the country to better utilize alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, and move away from further oil exploration.
America now imports 60 percent of its oil. Thus, policymakers need to change course and tap into domestic supplies that have been regulated as off limits, said Allen.
There are 10 billion barrels of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska that could be used to offset what is imported from Saudi Arabia, he said. Allen also expressed support for removing restrictions on off-shore drilling.
To illustrate how current energy policies stymie U.S. progress towards greater energy independence, Allen explained how hostile foreign dictators, operating close to America, actually have more flexibility to access precious resources than the people of Virginia.
"Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez are drilling for oil 45 miles off the coast of Florida, but Virginia is not permitted to explore for oil just 50 miles off its own coast," he said. "We should allow the commonwealth of Virginia to move toward these deep oil reserves."
The investment dollars that would stay in America instead of going overseas could yield important dividends, said Allen. The accelerated production of oil resources closer to Virginia, for instance, he said, could be applied to reducing the cost of in-state tuition.
"America has always been a land of innovation," said Allen. "We can invent cleaner and safer energy sources, but we need the right economic climate."
Although nuclear power is one of the cleanest forms of energy available, the U.S. has not built a new nuclear plant since the 1970s, said Allen. It is here that America "could learn a lesson from the French," he added. At present, about 80 percent of France's energy comes from nuclear power while the U.S. gets 20 percent from nuclear.
America is also beset by a paucity of oil refineries, Allen said. A new refinery has not been built in 30 years. One possible remedy would be to convert defunct military bases into new refineries, he suggested.
The former senator also expressed concern over the reaction many politicians have in Washington toward the issue of global warming. Allen cautioned against the "alarmist" attitude that has taken hold in some quarters and called upon young conservatives to help lead the charge against "job killing" proposals on Capitol Hill.
For America to remain on top of innovation, said Allen, it will be necessary for the country to return to Reagan-era polices that placed a premium on free market policies and the ingenuity of the American people.
But environmental activists with the Sierra Club sharply dispute Allen's prescriptions for America's energy needs. "America is still addicted to oil, oil companies are drowning in record high profits, and average American families are feeling the pinch at the pump," the organization declares on its website.
The Sierra Club is opposed to oil drilling in ANWR. It instead favors tapping into alternative renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power.
Those who advocate expanded oil drilling in ANWR overlook the fact that it would be 10 years before "a single drop of oil" would make its way into the Alaskan pipeline, Myke Bybee, a public lands lobbyist for the Sierra Club, told Cybercast News Service.
Moreover, U.S. Department of Energy figures show the additional oil derived from Alaska would lower the price of oil at the pump by just one penny, he added.
"The environmentalists are right that drilling in ANWR would not do much to bring down oil prices," says Jerry Taylor, director of natural resources studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. "Industry's best estimate is that ANWR could produce about 1 million barrels of oil per day at its peak. That's a 1.25 percent increase in global production.
The Sierra Club agrees with Allen's observation that the U.S. must free itself from a risky reliance on foreign sources, but it views increased oil drilling as a counter-productive dead-end that would also harm the environment.
"There is no way we can drill our way to energy independence," Bybee said. "There is simply not enough oil. The U.S. consumes about 25 percent of the world's oil consumption but sits on just 3 percent of the world's proven resources."
There are a number of "easy steps" that could be taken immediately to alleviate the current demand for oil, Bybee argued. For instance, the Sierra Club favors raising the CAF? (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards to 35 miles per gallon. This would enable cars to go further on a gallon of gas, he explained.
"We favor a broad, mixed approach, of increasing efficiency and focusing on renewable energy sources while moving away from the failed, drill it all mentality the Bush administration and their oil allies in Congress have been pushing for the last six years," Bybee said.
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