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Congress has learned from energy crisis of ‘70s

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Next week, the House will vote on a comprehensive energy package that includes vigorous conservation, research, technology, increased production of oil and gas and a push for more clean, renewable fuels. This diverse package proves that we learned from the energy crisis of the '70s and we won't make the same mistakes again.

We learned that the production vs. conservation argument is a long, mean road going nowhere. In the '70s, the conservation people seemed to fight every proposal to increase production, while the production crowd ridiculed most efforts to more wisely conserve our resources.

President Jimmy Carter's 1977 National Energy Plan was almost entirely conservation-driven. He gave no nod to the need to produce more of our own energy. Two years later, the Shah fell, oil prices shot up from less than $3 a barrel in 1973 to more than $35 a barrel in 1979. The nation was staggered by skyrocketing gasoline prices, shortages and lines at gas stations that lasted for blocks.

Many special-interest groups are walking that same conservation vs. production walk today — but Congress isn't. Last week, the House Resources Committee passed the Energy Security Act with strong bipartisan support. This bill increases our production of oil, gas, hydropower and renewable fuels. The next day, the Energy and Commerce Committee passed a vigorous conservation bill — the Energy and Conservation Advancement Act of 2001 — with a stunning bipartisan vote of 50-5.

Within 24 hours, two House committees passed a fossil-fuel production bill and a cutting-edge fossil-fuel conservation bill. That was no accident.

We recognize that our nation demands diverse, inventive solutions to its energy challenges. These votes are evidence of broadening support for a diverse energy solution.

Unlike 25 years ago, Congress has an eye on the present as well as an eye on the future. Today, our cars still run on gasoline; our homes are still heated by heating oil and natural gas and most of the electricity in this country still comes from coal. We must have an adequate supply of these fuels if we are to stabilize prices and avoid shortages and outages. The Energy Security Act pumps up that supply.

This time, Congress is doing better at looking to the future. We need next-generation nuclear power, cleaner coal and more renewable fuels such as geothermal, wind and solar energies. We badly need a modernized energy infrastructure. The western power grid has been strained to the breaking point much of the summer, prompting outages in several states.

Bills from five House committees — Science, Transportation, Resources, Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce — all reflect a new congressional focus on solutions for the future. These will be refiled as a comprehensive energy package that, we hope, will be a national energy blueprint for decades to come.

We've improved on the past with this energy package. Of course, we're still Congress. The heated debate is still there. The impassioned arguments still ring in committee hearing rooms. But these disagreements have strengthened our energy package.

For example, in the Resources Committee, we put language in the Energy Security Act mandating state-of-the-art technology in ANWR, the strictest environmental standards to protect plant and animal life after listening to the complaints of our opponents.

Our conservation plans were vague in the early spring. Honed by both friend and foe, we now have vigorous legislation that cuts our gasoline consumption by 5 billion gallons over the next six years.

Next week, that bill will be voted for by the same members of Congress who also want to increase domestic oil production.

It's taken us 25 years and a second national energy crisis, but we've gotten past the production vs. conservation mentality. We've recognized the need for a multifaceted solution that cuts our energy use, expands our supply, rebuilds our infrastructure and diversifies our fuel sources.

It will be the diversity of this proposal that sets it apart from the "National Energy Plan" proposed 25 years ago. We aspire to forge a plan that becomes a blueprint for the coming decades. Only time will tell us if we have succeeded. But our early start out of the gate looks promising.