We can’t keep ignoring messages

We can't keep ignoring messages
Members of Congress, including South Dakota's delegation in Washington, went a bit ga-ga recently, following President Bush's State of the Union address.


The president pledged to help wean our nation from its dependence on foreign oil.

"The president showcased ethanol as one of the most promising alternative fuels to secure America's energy future.�We in South Dakota have long known ethanol's significant potential as a reliable, cost-efficient, environmentally friendly fuel that can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil and make America more energy-independent," Sen. John Thune said in a prepared statement following the address. "Tonight, the president affirmed our confidence in the ethanol industry and brought ethanol's potential to the forefront of the national energy debate. I look forward to working with the Administration to increase ethanol research and use, which will greatly benefit South Dakota's corn growers and ethanol industry."

"I am pleased that the president is focusing on taking concrete steps to break our nation's dependence on foreign oil," Rep. Stephanie Herseth said. "I hope that he, and leaders across the country, will continue to discover what we in South Dakota already know: renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel are absolutely vital to energy independence, economic stability, and national security."

We'd like to believe that the president's remarks are part of a watershed moment in American history; the beginning of a significant, positive change in our energy policy.

It turns out that we're incredibly good about talking about reforms that could free us from imported oil. Talk, it turns out, is easy. Trying to enact change to break the grip that imported oil has on us is darn near impossible.

There's a reason that Bush's recent call for greater use of alternative fuels had a familiar ring to it. Our chief executives have, for decades now, tried to find some way to get this country to cut its oil consumption.

? In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush announced a $1.2 billion hydrogen fuel initiative to reverse America's growing dependence on foreign oil by developing the technology for commercially viable hydrogen-powered fuel cells to power cars, trucks, homes and businesses with no pollution or greenhouse gases.

? In 1998, President Bill Clinton proposed $6 billion in tax cuts and research and development to encourage innovation, renewable energy, fuel-efficient cars, and energy-efficient homes.

? Jimmy Carter's State of the Union address in 1980 sounded like a stern lecture to American citizens. "The American people are making progress in energy conservation. Last year we reduced overall petroleum consumption by 8 percent and gasoline consumption by 5 percent below what it was the year before. Now we must do more," he said.

He called for a major conservation effort, with important initiatives to develop solar power, realistic pricing based on the true value of oil, strong incentives for the production of coal and other fossil fuels in the United States, and the nation's most massive peacetime investment in the development of synthetic fuels.

? In 1975, President Gerald Ford told the nation that he was proposing a program which would begin to restore our country's surplus capacity in total energy. In this way, he said, we would be able to assure ourselves reliable and adequate energy and help foster a new world energy stability for other major consuming nations. "I am recommending a plan to make us invulnerable to cutoffs of foreign oil," Ford said.

? The United States was sent reeling during Richard Nixon's presidency by a Middle East oil embargo that led to gas lines and spikes in the cost of fuel. In his 1974 State of the Union address, Nixon said he had recommended legislative measures necessary to compel the Middle East to lift its embargo.

"If the embargo is lifted, this will ease the crisis, but it will not mean an end to the energy shortage in America. Voluntary conservation will continue to be necessary," Nixon said. "And let me take this occasion to pay tribute once again to the splendid spirit of cooperation the American people have shown which has made possible our success in meeting this emergency up to this time."

It's easy to blame Congress, or the White House, or maybe even ourselves for the state of our union energy-wise. One fact seems rather clear, however.

Five presidents in our recent history have talked about doing something to ease our dependence on oil.We haven't been able to make much progress in this area.

No doubt future presidents will talk about energy in their State of the Union addresses. Will we listen, or will their words continue to be ignored?

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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