Tester urges Apollo-style effort on energy

Ravalli Republic

by Joel Gallob

It's time to get the U.S. off imported oil, away from the globe's unstable oil regions, and onto renewable energy, said Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT.

That, Tester said in an exclusive interview with the Ravalli Republic this week, may require a national effort like the Apollo Project, through which the U.S. put a man on the moon.

His basic idea is that "all options must be on the table, and we should take an informed, factual approach" to deciding which energy sources should be emphasized and which de-emphasized.

After that, he sees three key points to America's next energy policy.
First, to help cut gas prices, Tester said, is "dealing with speculators. We have more oil being traded than the country has. We need to make the oil futures process transparent, so people are not artificially inflating prices."

There is a Senate bill to do just that, Tester said, that "would protect people who need to hedge their bets on fuel, in trucking and aviation, but not let Wall Street make money on the back of Main Street."

Second is that "drilling is important, and we are drilling," he said.

That means identifying places where it makes sense to drill, such as eastern Montana's Bakken oil field, and places where we should not, like the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, Tester said.

Industry pressure to open ANWR has been "a wedge issue" used by the oil companies and their supporters, he said.

"There are 68 million acres that have already been leased, and more could be leased," Tester said.

That includes offshore lands on the Outer Continental Shelf, even though there are restrictions on that.

"Only certain areas are prohibited," he said. "One-third is prohibited, the rest is not."

The Gulf of Mexico, where a year ago oil companies found a major new reserve, is appropriate to drilling, at least off the Texas and Louisiana coasts, he said.

There were some pictures of oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Katrina struck, Tester said, "that's one of the down sides. But the Gulf is someplace they have drilled and they've done a pretty good job."

Part three to Tester's energy policy is a national effort to bring online those renewable energy technologies, like solar, wind and geothermal, that are already in place and growing, and to help develop other new technologies, including cellusic biofuels made from wood products, straw or other non-food organic materials including camelina, which grows well in Montana and for which Tester provided some support in the recent Farm Bill.

There are numerous other technologies available or in development that range from improved car batteries and hybrid or electric cars, to clean coal, low-head (small stream) hydro, and ocean tide, current and wave energy technologies, he said.

"They're out there," Tester said. "There's probably some kid in a garage in Montana working on a new type of car engine right now" that could change the future.

"This needs to be an effort like we had to put a man on the moon," he said. "The U.S. has three percent of the world's reserves and we use 25 percent of the oil. The books don't balance."

Renewal of the renewable energy tax credit would help, he said. That federal tax break expired in December 2007, and has bounced off and on the books for years.

America's biggest increases in renewable energy installations were those when the tax credit was in place.

Yet a tax incentives package developed by Montana's other Senator, Max Baucus, "has been blocked every time. And only four Republicans voted for it," Tester said.

Loans for new geothermal businesses would also help, he continued. Iceland, with its numerous geothermal resources "is a carbonless society," he said. Montana has good geothermal resources, as well as wind, solar and coal resources.

Hydrogen technologies "may be down the line a bit, but with a little effort hydrogen might rise to the top," Tester said.

Electric cars, possibly with lithium batteries, if sufficiently developed, might massively cut America's petroleum imports, he said. If homes had rooftop solar or backyard wind turbines, they could be charged overnight.

Nuclear power "needs to be on the table," Tester said. It doesn't produce carbon dioxide, and the French "have done a reasonable job" of burying its wastes.

"We need to figure out what to do with the waste," Tester said.

Conservation is important too.

Congress "did mandate an increase in car mileage last fall, but the fact GM lost $15 billion last quarter shows they need to revamp their product," he said. "And they are; but they need to do better … The Model T made 25 miles per gallon."

All this would cost money, Tester said, but in the long run it would save much of the $700 billion America exports annually for oil purchases. And an Apollo-type effort could be funded with just part of "the $12 billion we spend every month in Iraq," he said.