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Lugar calls for urgent action on energy policy

Aaron Steiner | Thursday, October 9, 2008

The United States’ current energy dilemmas will require “game-changing policies,” Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said Wednesday. He added that the country must work to overcome technical obstacles and societal inertia to address the growing energy supply problems.

Lugar spoke to students, faculty and administrators at Washington Hall during a daylong visit to Notre Dame’s campus.

“America’s voracious appetite for energy exists in a world of unpredictable competition for increasingly scarce supplies of energy,” Lugar said.

As a nation, he said, the United States must put high emphasis on the energy issue, which is tied to a multitude of other issues including foreign policy and the economic crisis.

But with the challenge comes opportunities, Lugar said, and the United States should recognize that addressing the energy problem could in fact include “pro-growth” solutions.

With that in mind, the next president must make “energy innovation that brings jobs and economic growth, and that also saves Americans money” a top priority.

“The next president must be more than thoughtful and attentive,” Lugar said. “The president must be relentless.

“He must be willing to have his administration judged on how successful it is on this issue.”

Future energy policy will require investment by the government, Lugar said.

“The U.S. government can use its purchasing power to jumpstart new energy technologies,” he said.

In addition, the costs of research and development must be decreased, and unfortunately, the market hasn’t driven down these costs, Lugar said. In this situation, he would resort to mandates to improve research and infrastructure development.

“I suggest with some reservations, that these are areas that need to be mandated,” he said.

Lugar said that he feels there is now enough understanding within Congress that practical action can be taken.

“It just seems to me that we are at a threshold point,” he said, calling the energy crisis “fertile ground” and an opportunity for the United States.

The solutions though, will be complex, as the problems are complex, he said.

Lugar said at the current rate, global demand for energy would increase 50 percent by the year 2030. Much of the demand comes from fossil fuels, Lugar said, noting that in China over 80 percent of the energy is supplied by fossil fuels.

“Countries rich in oil gain staggering amounts of wealth,” Lugar said. The wealth flowing to many of these countries – including Russia, Iran and Venezuela – is used to finance objectives that hurt American foreign policy objectives, Lugar said.

“We try to foster global respect,” Lugar said, but the money flowing from oil purchases often goes to foster corrupt practices. Likewise, the United States tries to fight poverty, but energy-poor countries are becoming impoverished by the high cost of importing energy.

The energy problem is complex, Lugar said, but working towards energy independence should take priority.

“Our first priority to should be reducing dependence on foreign oil,” he said, calling that dependence our “most intense short-term vulnerability.”

The next president, he said, should set “a national goal of making competitively priced biofuels available to all motorists in America” as one way to combat dependence on oil.

Cars should be equipped to be flex-fuel capable, Lugar said, and manufacturers must address the poor fuel efficiency of American produced vehicles.

Lugar said that all forms of alternative energy – biofuels, wind, solar, nuclear, clean carbon and others – must be a part of developing energy independence.

It will take serious action on the part of leadership and society, he said.

“Making meaningful progress requires dogged devotion,” Lugar said, and the country has to work fast.

“All of this has got to be done with some degree of urgency,” he said.