Drill Deeper — Could this be the long-awaited start of a real debate on energy security in the United States?

There is a brief editorial in the Washington Post today about one positive by-product of $4 a gallon gasoline…

DRILL DEEPER

Could this be the long-awaited start of a real debate on energy security in the United States?

WaPo
Sunday, June 22, 2008; B06

IF THERE IS a silver lining in the price of gasoline shooting past $4 a gallon, it’s that it has sparked an intense debate in the United States about its energy security — or lack thereof. President Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have given the impression that relief for drivers lies in off-shore drilling and the construction of nuclear power plants. In fact, those solutions wouldn’t produce results for years. But if this level of passion and debate continues through the fall election and is followed up by action, the nation will be better off.

Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican Party nominee for president, kicked things off last Tuesday when he reversed himself in a speech to a Houston audience and announced that the moratorium on drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf that has been in effect since 1981 should be lifted. He got a Rose Garden assist the next day from Mr. Bush, who called on Congress to allow states the option of drilling off their coasts to tap the estimated 18 billion barrels of oil underneath. On Wednesday, Mr. McCain said that if elected president he wanted 45 nuclear reactors built by 2030 “with the ultimate goal of 100 new plants to power the homes and factories and cities of America.”

The mantra from the Democratic Party — from the presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), on down — has been a variation on “We cannot drill our way out of this energy crisis.” Considering that the U.S. is estimated to have 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves, that’s certainly true. But if it is acceptable to drill in the Caspian Sea and in developing countries such as Nigeria, where environmental concerns are equally important, it’s hard to explain why the United States should rule out careful, environmentally sound drilling off its own coasts. Like Mr. McCain, we do not support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Mr. Bush advocated Wednesday. That pristine area, with its varied and sensitive ecosystems, should be preserved.

Washington has done a poor job of telling the public that energy security will be achieved not from one source overnight but from many over years and that there are no easy solutions and no cheap ways to break this nation’s dependence on oil. There will be trade-offs and sacrifices that have yet to be considered. So far, the focus has been on biofuels, solar power and wind energy. But all this talk of drilling, squeezing oil out of shale, as Mr. Bush proposed, and pushing for more nuclear power is a welcome widening of a larger and necessary discussion.

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