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With Washington Failing on Energy, States Must Take the Lead          Send a link to a friend

[SEPT. 15, 2005]  As the chaos caused by Hurricane Katrina settles, people are asking serious questions about the federal government’s preparedness for natural disasters. But Americans also need to ask about the effectiveness and security of America’s energy system. If we don’t like the answers we’re getting from an increasingly out-of-touch federal government, then perhaps we need to turn to our state leaders for action.

In recent years, the world’s appetite for oil and natural gas, combined with a squeeze on supply, has sent energy prices on a steep climb with no end in sight. High gasoline prices have already pinched our pocket books, but prices for diesel fuel, heating oil, natural gas and even natural gas-based fertilizer will reverberate throughout the economy for years to come.

America’s overextended energy system was already running full steam this summer when Katrina knocked out (for the time being at least) a sizeable chunk of America’s capacity to import, extract, refine and distribute fossil fuels. As a result of our nation’s lack of preparedness for such a hurricane, Americans can be sure of one thing: high prices at the gasoline pump. But there’s more. We can also expect higher prices for natural gas, heating oil and electricity as well.

The long and short-term solutions to the problem are obvious and challenging. America needs to wean itself off our unstable and unsustainable sources of energy by dramatically improving the energy efficiency of our homes, cars, appliances and businesses. And most importantly, we need to move towards more renewable sources of energy.

The Bush administration and Congress appear determined to take us in the opposite direction. In a clear example of special-interest- business-as-usual scenario, President Bush included billions of dollars in handouts to the oil industry, the nuclear industry and other energy companies through the energy bill he signed last month. The President has made it a priority to make it harder for Americans to conserve. He has pushed hard to weaken C.A.F.E. rules and preached a policy of consumption being necessary for the health of the American economy. The President refuses to add aggressive requirements for clean, renewable power, limits on emissions of pollutants that cause global warming (which some believe will contribute to more severe storms in the future) to his energy bill.

[Justin Kreindler, Consumer Associate, Illinois PIRG]

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It was in this spirit that the President’s immediate reaction to the emerging energy crisis after Hurricane Katrina was to open the strategic petroleum reserve to the oil companies and to relax air quality standards for gasoline. Only after the administration realized that these measures would fall short of achieving their goal did he call on the public to conserve.

The lessons of Katrina must not fall on deaf ears. Our precarious position today is a result of failed energy policies that perhaps will now convince Congress and the President of the need for a more sustainable, diverse and secure energy system. But if it doesn’t, there’s another place that citizens should be able to turn for leadership: the States.

Over the past few years, a growing number of states have begun to move toward a better and more efficient energy system. Texas has pledged to double its commitment to renewable energy over the next decade. Arizona recently joined eight other states in tightening energy efficiency standards for appliances and California is poised to pass the biggest solar power bill in the country. In the Northeast, nine states recently agreed to reduce global warming emissions from power plants, while several other states are doing the same for cars.

Illinois must take action as well to help ensure a secure, clean and economically sustainable future for all Illinoisans. We should adopt a renewable energy standard, as proposed by Governor Blagojevich last February. This would allow us to develop the enormous potential for wind energy in rural Illinois, creating jobs, stabilizing electric rates, and helping our environment. To help conserve energy resources and save consumers money, the Illinois legislature should support energy efficiency standards for appliances. Illinois policy makers should also look long term at our transportation policy that encourages alternative fuel vehicles, planning that minimizes the number of miles people have to travel and invest in public transportation so people have choices.

As Hurricane Katrina has reminded us, the time to start making those changes is now. Americans can’t afford to wait for the federal government to rescue us from the disastrous energy policy decisions of the past. It is now time for the states to lead.

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