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If Rep. Bartlett is correct, new energy plan needed

April 19, 2005

Citizens accustomed to elected officials who promise quick fixes to all their problems might have been surprised last week by the message offered by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.

Bartlett, in Hagerstown to deliver a grant to allow hundreds of Franklin County, Pa., students to attend Children's Village safety programs, offered a glum assessment of current gasoline prices.

Because U.S. oil production has peaked, Bartlett said prices at the pump won't fall and the nation will have to cut its oil usage. To cope, he said, citizens need to purchase more energy-efficient vehicles or share rides with others.

Bartlett talked about the problem in a hour-long speech to the House of Representatives on March 14.

It began with a look at the work of M. King Hubbert, a Shell Oil Company geologist who noticed that production in every oil field eventually peaked, then declined.

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Looking at all the world's oil fields together, including likely future discoveries, Hubbert concluded that U.S. production would peak in 1970, then decline thereafter.

Bartlett, in a statement unlikely to endear him to the Bush administration, said not even new drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will change this downward cycle.

Bartlett's solution? The nation has to become more energy efficient and better at conservation.

He noted that the two are not the same thing. While a refrigerator today may be twice as efficient as one made 20 or 30 years ago, it's probably larger as well. Some families even have two of them now, he said.

The U.S. needs to use less energy, Bartlett said, just as Californians did voluntarily during recent power shortages there.

And, the congressman said, the U.S. needs the equivalent of a Manhattan project to develop renewable energy and other benign technologies.

The first challenge, Bartlett said, will be getting citizens and elected officials to agree that oil is a diminishing resource.

The one sector that might be expected to challenge that assertion is the oil industry.

But in a February 2004 report on energy trends, greenhouse gas emissions and alternative energy sources, ExxonMobil said that meeting future energy demands will require not only increased efficiency but also development of new, non-petroleum sources of energy.

Unlike many elected officials, who offer voters sunny visions and short-term solutions to national problems, Rep. Bartlett is calling for personal sacrifice and national investment in a new energy strategy.

Each upward tick of gas pump prices should be a sign to citizens that if Bartlett is correct, inaction now will lead to something much worse later.

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