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Peters: Alternatives Can End Oil Addiction

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will ultimately be remembered as one of the worst environmental and economic tragedies in American history. There could be no clearer call to action to examine new policies to alleviate our addiction to oil.

But the need to do so should have been apparent long before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon. We need to aggressively strengthen our country’s development of new energy technologies not only because of the potential environmental consequences of fossil fuels, but because our national security and America’s global economic leadership depends on it.

I wrote the Advanced Vehicle Technology Act of 2009 to help ensure that American automobile manufacturers and suppliers lead the way in developing the next generation of advanced fuel-efficient vehicles and components. The bill will authorize the Department of Energy to partner with small and large manufacturers and suppliers that develop technologies to greatly improve the energy efficiency of our vehicles. By utilizing private sector expertise to conduct precompetitive research, it will ensure that America remains the global leader in the research and development of innovative vehicle technologies and lower the cost of manufacturing these new technologies in the United States.

The bill was approved by a wide, bipartisan 312-114 vote in the House last September. It was also supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the United Auto Workers union and environmental organizations such as the League of Conservation Voters — groups that don’t exactly see eye to eye on most issues. In today’s divisive environment, Congress should seize the opportunity to enact into law common-sense, bipartisan legislation that is supported by such a wide cross-section of competing interest groups.

The bill garnered such broad support because leaders across the ideological spectrum have begun to realize that America’s global power rests on our entrepreneurs’ ability to lead the world in developing these new technologies. Military experts agree that our dependence upon foreign oil constitutes a national security threat and that future global conflicts will increasingly be driven by growing energy demands. Last year, a group of retired, high-ranking military officers working with the Center for Naval Analyses released a report finding that current U.S. energy policy — or lack thereof — “constitutes a serious and urgent threat to national security.”

As nations such as China and India continue to develop and consume more of the world’s resources, oil will continue to get more expensive. In the coming decades, skyrocketing oil costs will join death and taxes on the list of life’s certainties. If the United States does not prepare for this reality and position itself to be an exporter of alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and advanced vehicles and vehicle components such as next-generation batteries, it will find itself addicted not only to imported oil but to imported green technologies as well.

Other nations are investing heavily in green technologies. The Chinese, for example, are investing $288 million a day to develop new green technologies. It’s not because they feel a moral obligation to help curb global climate change or because they fear the environmental consequences of offshore oil drilling. Other nations are acting because they recognize that as the world’s population grows and the developing world advances, billions of new energy consumers will exponentially increase demand on the global energy supply. Being among the nations that lead the world in the development and sale of new energy products will be the key to economic power in this new century.

Just as the launch of Sputnik solidified our resolve to win the space race, our slip from leadership on 21st-century technology development must strengthen our determination now. The U.S. gave the Soviets a several-year head start in the space race, but the recognition that they were surpassing us gave our nation focus.

Once again, we must come together as a nation to win the race. Our security, prosperity and global leadership hang in the balance.

Other governments are supporting their respective nations’ new technology visionaries, and if we don’t do the same here then our entrepreneurs are fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. Washington must support our technology companies as they innovate and grow. Enacting the Advanced Vehicle Technology Act would be a great step forward in our nation’s quest to remain the world’s technological and economic superpower in this new century.

And, yes, this would have other benefits as well, such as saving consumers money at the pump, helping to stop the tremendous transfer of wealth to nations hostile to our interest and protecting our habitat and economy from the abhorrent consequences of inaction we are now enduring in the Gulf. Those are pretty good reasons to act too.

Rep. Gary Peters is a Michigan Democrat.

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