Homeland Security Means Energy Security
By Christopher Curtis
Former Governor Tom Ridge is the new United States Director of Homeland Security, a cabinet-level position dedicated to protecting American citizens and preventing terrorist threats to our nation and its people. This office has enormous influence today because of current circumstances - and because of Mr. Ridge's friendship with the president.
Among myriad tasks this office must perform to combat terrorism are: working with "executive departments and agencies, state and local governments, and private entities to ensure the adequacy of the national strategy for detecting, preparing for, preventing, protecting against, responding to, and recovering from terrorist threats or attacks within the United States... " Whew! That's a lot to take on.
There is a far simpler and more direct route to ending the threat of terrorism, and ensuring peace at home and abroad. Mr. Ridge should immediately meet with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to revisit the Bush Energy Plan with an emphasis on viewing it not simply as an energy panacea (remember it was crafted during California's "energy crisis"), but as a national security priority. Turning off the spigot of foreign oil, and plugging into alternative forms of energy is the single most important thing America can do to relieve tension abroad and at home. Here's why:
Our economy currently runs on coal and oil - coal to power our electrical grids, and oil to run our transportation networks and industries. A rapid transition to renewable energy sources will help keep us secure from terrorist threats for two reasons. First, it will lessen the primacy of oil in the world, which decreases the strategic importance of the Middle East and our need for a presence there. Second, a rich mix of renewable energy ensures that distributed generation becomes common in this country, reducing our reliance on a central grid and insulating us from attack on energy supplies. It's also smart public policy. In the same way you don't put your entire financial portfolio into tech stocks, we shouldn't put our entire energy portfolio into coal and oil.
Making the leap to homegrown energy sources will unleash America's technological prowess and innovation. New American jobs will be created sparking an 'energy revolution' no less significant than the information revolution we're currently experiencing. Further, plugging into renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and fuel cells will fundamentally alter the way the world views the balance of "power" in the world. America will no longer need the Middle East for economic reasons - and the region will be viewed more objectively with a goal of peace, rather than self-interest at stake.
A final, important benefit of making the switch to clean energy is the environmental benefit to our children and future generations. Renewable energy is plentiful, non-polluting and will ensure the spectre of global warming recedes just as do the terrorist threats we now face from abroad. In both instances, we are confronted with a faceless enemy that will take time to subdue, but which we ignore at our peril.
Oregon is already leading the country to help make the switch. We've committed to the 300 MW Stateline Wind Farm on the Oregon/Washington border which will be the largest in the US, and produce enough clean energy to power a city the size of Seattle. Portland General Electric offers 'Salmon-Friendly' and 'Wind' power options for customers to increase demand for renewable energy. Mr. Ridge can spur the federal government to pick up the pace and help make a transition to renewable energy - and energy independence - not only feasible, but inevitable.
As Mr. Ridge takes command of the Office of Homeland Security, he should look beyond the obvious issues of airport security and immigration policy, and expand his thinking about 'Homeland Security' to include energy policy. He could even take a page from Oregon's energy playbook. If he does, he could leave America safer and more prosperous than when he found it.
Christopher Curtis is a member of the Board of Directors of the Green House Network, a Portland-based non-profit organization dedicated to stopping global warming.