The pain of filling up at the pump is on the minds of many Americans in this presidential election year, and the issue of energy independence — with all its environmental and geopolitical ramifications — topped the agenda at the Centennial Meeting for the National Governors Association, the bipartisan lobbying organization that represents state governments in Washington.
About 30 state executives — a fair number of whom have been mentioned as possible Democratic and Republican vice-presidential candidates — gathered in Philadelphia on July 11-14.
The governors association unveiled four publications, including one citing efforts in all 50 states to increase energy efficiency and fund innovation in "clean" energy sources. Still, little consensus emerged on hot-button issues, such as whether to allow more drilling in the arctic to boost domestic oil production — or whether the federal government and states should invest more heavily in corn-based ethanol.
"We need to find ways to reduce the demand" for fossil fuels," said Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who hosted the Center City conference and sat on the "Securing a Clean Energy Future Task Force" panel.
Rendell, the lone Jewish governor at the event — Hawaii's Republican governor Linda Lingle did not attend — officially took over as chair of the association from Minnesota Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Rendell's top priority for the states will be repairing the crumbling infrastructure, such as highways and bridges.
The program came just after Rendell had signed legislation stipulating that every gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel in the state must contain a percentage of ethanol and biodiesel. While many farmers and politicians have championed ethanol, critics of ethanol subsidies claim that production has spiked corn prices without doing much to lower gas prices or offer any feasible alternatives to fossil-fuel use.
The gathering also came on the heels of a decision by the White House to reject a recommendation by the Environmental Protection Agency that the 1970 Clean Air Act could be used by the federal government to mandate reductions in carbon emissions and combat climate change, leading many advocates to charge that the administration plans to do little or nothing about the problem in its waning days.
Alexander Karsner, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, said that President George W. Bush has not relegated climate change to the back burner.
"The president has made the administration's position clear as to the debate on greenhouse gases. We have turned the page on the era of problem-identification and have moved into an era of problem-solving," said Karsner during the conference.
Waiting for the Next Prez?
Both Pawlenty and Rendell stated that a major policy initiative would likely not come until the next president is sworn into office.
In his speech to the governors, Robert A. Malone, chairman and president of BP America, Inc., pointed out that most presidents since Richard M. Nixon have promised energy independence for America — and failed to deliver.
He also said that as part of a policy that should include investment in alternative sources, the United States needs to increase oil production, something that wouldn't hurt his business.
Meanwhile, Vijay Vaitheeswaran, energy correspondent for The Economist, told the governors that the solution to the crisis lies in economies weaning themselves off fossil fuels; he also argued that the answer to the problem would most likely come from young innovators and not the next president.
Despite the fact that energy independence is a major priority for a host of national Jewish organizations, only the American Jewish Congress had a representative at the conference.
Richard Gordon, the organization's president, said that he planned to lobby Democratic and Republican governors on a totally separate issue — specifically, to push for laws protecting American authors from libel suits filed in foreign countries, and judgments rendered by foreign courts.