My Turn: Bipartisan plan is best for businesses and workers

Posted: Tuesday, December 04, 2001

It's no secret that the business community and labor unions often don't see eye-to-eye on most issues. The devastating terrorist attacks Sept. 11 united business and labor behind the twin goals of bringing justice to the perpetrators of this heinous crime and getting our economy moving again.

But even before the tragic events of Sept. 11, business and labor were making strange bedfellows on another critical issue - the need for a sensible, long-term national energy strategy. When it comes to energy, both parties recognize the House-passed energy proposal for what it is one of the largest job-producing, economy-boosting pieces of public policy in decades.

Our high-tech economy and a rapidly growing population are fueling a demand for energy that requires an enormous capital investment and hundreds of thousands of new jobs. And the need to reduce our reliance on foreign oil was brought into sharp focus Sept. 11. During the 1970s energy crisis, America was 36 percent dependent on foreign oil. Today we are 56 percent dependent - and by 2010 we're headed for well in excess of 60 percent.

In the next 20 years, we need to build 10 oil refineries and 1,300 power plants. We need to drill at least 25,000 additional natural gas wells per year until 2020. We need to construct 38,000 miles of natural-gas transmission pipelines and 255,000 miles of new distribution lines a $150 billion investment by itself. And thousands of miles of electrical transmission lines and oil pipelines need to be added to the balance sheet.

Some experts project that the renovation and expansion of our energy infrastructure will require a $3 trillion to $5 trillion investment, which will create plentiful new jobs in tanker and pipeline construction, oil refining, transportation and several other industries. This massive business investment and job growth initiative will help steer our sluggish economy back on the right track.

Beyond its effect as an economic stimulus and job creator, the bipartisan energy plan is balanced, responsible and workable. It calls for an expansion of our energy infrastructure, increased gas, coal, oil, including much needed Alaskan oil, and nuclear energy production, streamlined approval processes, and an easing of regulatory barriers.

Increased conservation and the development of feasible alternative and renewable sources of energy are an equally important part of the bipartisan plan. Despite what some environmentalists say, business and workers support conservation.

Any business that wastes anything - power, resources, or talent - won't be in business very long. And it's business that is pouring valuable resources into new, cleaner technologies, such as hybrid gas-electric vehicles.

The bipartisan energy plan wisely encourages conservation and increasing the nation's use of renewable and alternative sources of energy by extending tax incentives for the development of clean coal technologies, wind and solar energy, hybrid and fuel cell cars, and energy generated by organic waste, or biomass. It also sets aside federal funds for research into fuel cell-powered buses.

Some special interest groups have tried to put the energy crisis on the back burner because of the recent dip in energy prices. But just because you've temporarily erased a symptom doesn't mean you've cured the disease.

We cannot allow a temporary dip in prices to lull us into a false sense of security. Complacency on the energy issue has tremendous consequences for business, workers, consumers, and for our country. It's imperative that Congress act swiftly in completing consideration of a comprehensive energy package and send it to the president as soon as possible.

The bipartisan energy plan is a two-for-one special for Americans. It takes care of this country's long-term energy needs while creating plentiful new job and business investment opportunities in the short run, while reducing our reliance on foreign oil. This bipartisan energy strategy protects the environment and is good for the country's economic future, good for consumers and working Americans, and good for business.

Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Sullivan is president of the Building & Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. (c) 2001, Thomas J. Donohue and Edward C. Sullivan. Distributed by KRT Services.

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