June 26, 2008 | Commentary on Energy and Environment, Economy

Opening America's Energy Potential

Most New Yorkers rely on public transportation to get around. In an age of $4-a-gallon gasoline, they're lucky.

Still, rising energy prices affect us all, no matter how often we drive. We're paying more to fly, more for our electricity -- and are all of us are suffering to some degree because of escalating energy prices. What to do?

Here in Washington, D.C., politicians are busy trying to come up with an answer before the November elections. For some, the way to deal with the rising gas prices is to go after the oil companies and their profits. Tax their profits, they argue, and gas prices will go down. Good luck with that.

The truth is that reducing gas prices will require a lot of hard work, sacrifice and a continued willingness from both the public and the private sector to craft a realistic solution. Luckily, many Americans agree that a good start would be for us to free ourselves from our dependency on foreign oil.

However, because we rely on fossil fuel to run our cars and heat our homes, we simply can't go cold turkey. And yet it's clear that policymakers must lay out a sensible road map that considers our country's short-term and long-term energy needs.

A good step would be to follow through on the Administration's recently announced plan to lift a ban on oil exploration in American-controlled waters, also known as outer continental shelf (OCS).

According to one of my colleagues at The Heritage Foundation, energy expert Ben Lieberman, these off-limits areas comprise substantial parts of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, parts of offshore Alaska, and the eastern Gulf of Mexico. And according to the Department of Interior, we could recover approximately 19.1 billion barrels of oil. That's equal to about 30 years' worth of imports from Saudi Arabia.

These restrictions were first put in place because various states were concerned that drilling so close to their shores would harm the environment and their local economies. This was particularly true for Florida, which relies heavily on tourism to boost its bottom line.

But with today's soaring gas prices, almost everyone is willing to reconsider the current ban. In fact, Florida Governor Charlie Crist made news by announcing his support for lifting the ban. And the latest public opinion polls seem to confirm that he's not alone. A Rasmussen Report poll concluded that 61 percent of Floridians agree that exploring in the OCS would lower gas prices.

Yes, opening America's waters to energy exploration will do little to free us from our long-term dependence on fossil fuel. We must continue to press forward to develop alternative energy sources including nuclear, solar and hydrogen.

But in the meantime, the environmental lobby and petty politics shouldn't prevent energy exploration off our country's very shores -- exploration that has the potential to immediately reduce gas prices.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Israel Ortega Contributor, The Foundry
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Related Issues: Energy and Environment, Economy

First appeared in NYC's El Diario