Our View: Energy security a vital national interest

A new energy policy that make us less dependent on fossil fuels is key to our future

The Portland Press Herald
July 11th, 2010

Asked what was the single biggest threat to America's long-term national security, Ret. Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn offers three:

"Energy, energy, energy," McGinn said. "You can't have a strong defense and a lousy economy, and there is an inextricable link between economic vibrancy and energy policy."

McGinn came to Maine last week to drum up support for a new national energy policy, but comes to the debate from a different angle than we are used to seeing.

Instead of the usual argument between environmental and business concerns, McGinn and the group Partnership for a Secure America is promoting the need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels as an issue of national security. It is a point of view that stakes out some middle ground in a policy fight where middle ground has been scarce and should be taken into account as energy measures move through Congress.

McGinn makes the following points:

Our dependence on foreign oil is an immense vulnerability. It causes us to send $1 billion a day out of our economy, much of it going to countries that supply our enemies. McGinn cites intelligence reports that trace petro-dollars received by Iran used to buy IED components that were used against our troops in Iraq.

Protecting our access to oil forces us to send service men and women into harm's way. A local event, say an Iranian blockade of the Straits of Hormuz, could shut off 30 percent of the world's oil and put our economy into a tailspin. A natural disaster, like a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, could be equally disastrous.

CALL TO ACTION

And the worldwide results of climate change would likely create political instability and humanitarian disasters in other countries that would require more commitment of our armed forces.

McGinn says this is a call for action, and he is not patient with the usual objections.

Wouldn't discouraging the use of fossil fuels amount to a tax that would be a drag on the economy? McGinn says there would be nothing new about that. "We are already paying the price, as the events in the Gulf of Mexico show," he said. "People say they want BP to pay for the cleanup, but where does BP get its money? They get it from us."

The Partnership for a Secure America's tour takes place as several climate bills are circulating in Washington. Last year the House passed an economy-wide cap on carbon emissions, in which polluters could buy and trade allowances. Money raised would be used to invest in alternative energy and transportation programs.

A similar bill, sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., is in the Senate. A competing measure sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins and Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, would send most of the money raised by selling allowances to consumers, to offset the higher cost of power.

Another bill, sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe, would address emissions from the utility sector only, which is responsible for about 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

WHAT IT WILL TAKE

The Partnership for Secure America is not taking any position on any of the pieces of legislation, but McGinn is clear about what a good bill should contain.

It should put a price on carbon, allowing market forces to steer users away from carbon-based fuels toward green energy sources.

It should also provide energy independence, by increasing investment in domestically produced power sources, which should include renewables, biofuels and nuclear power.

And it should impose strong energy efficiency standards that will reduce demand for energy. That will require Congress to work with the regulatory agencies to develop and enforce standards that will make a difference.

The nature of the threat could not be more evident. What's missing, McGinn said, is a commitment to act from members of Congress.

"Our elected leaders have lost a sense of courage," he said.

Coming from Adm. McGinn, that is a call to action. Let's hope our elected officials are up to the challenge.