When Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke appeared before the Economic Club of Chicago in 2006, he foreshadowed "the days of persistently cheap oil and natural gas prices are likely behind us."
Two years later as the price of oil surpasses $140 a barrel, the chairman's prediction appears to be increasingly accurate. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration's efforts to address the crisis included simply a series of short-sighted remedies such as attempting to persuade Middle East oil producers to increase supply, subsidizing big oil companies through tax breaks, and pushing for leasing millions of additional acres of federal and protected lands to oil companies for exploration and drilling for fossil fuels.
These efforts have achieved no significant effect, with gas prices rising 250 percent since the day President Bush took office, leading to as much as $4.50 per gallon and costing the average American over $1,250 dollars more per year for gasoline since 2001.
And while the Democrats in Congress take this country in a new direction when it comes to our energy future, they are blocked at every turn by the oil barons and their friends in the White House and on Capitol Hill.
But now more than ever, there is no doubt that much of our nation's future prosperity depends on a sound, multi-faceted energy policy that weans our nation off of oil, promotes research and development of renewable energy, and eventually eliminates the harmful emissions that contribute to global warming.
Recently, Congress took important steps in leading our country in a new direction by passing two important bills. The first, Saving Energy through Public Transportation Act of 2008 (SEPTA), will help fight rising energy costs by providing grants to mass transit authorities to reduce public transit fares, expand transit services and assist with escalating operating costs.
In the Washington D.C. metropolitan region alone, SEPTA will provide $57.3 million dollars in federal funding for public transportation. The second bill, the Energy Markets Emergency Act, directs the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to use all its authority and emergency powers to limit excessive speculation in energy futures markets which many believe is contributing to a rise in cost that has little to do with the traditional relationship of supply and demand and a lot to do with greed.
Still, more needs to be done to signify a fundamental change in our approach when it comes to dealing with energy costs in America. This will require strong market signals to show that innovation will create jobs and stimulate the economy.
We must tie our 21st Century energy policy to economic development by promoting deeper investments in mass transit and utility infrastructure, especially for vulnerable communities. We can also no longer delay long-term investments in clean energy research, development and production of wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources. This type of forward thinking will provide real solutions to global warming and be the catalyst of our nation's next economic boom.
That catalyst in the short-term can begin by transitioning from fossil fuels and last century energy production to green and renewable energy development. Congress should provide funding for remodeling older homes and businesses, while developing tax policy that encourages green development and conservation.
We must cap carbon emissions by actually proposing mandatory limits of 20 percent reductions by 2020 and 80 percent reductions by the middle of the century. To achieve this goal, we must provide industries with incentives to end carbon production through clean technologies.
Once we are able to combine clean energy production with industry investments, we will be close to solving the energy crisis. Recent events have made it clear that energy costs are one of the few commodities that can affect a wide range of markets in our economy. Internationally, domestically, and individually, our dependence on fossil fuels has a tremendous ripple effect, making a revolutionary energy policy all the more paramount. The time has come to look forward.
U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) (NNPA)