Adequate supplies of domestic energy are inextricably linked to our nation's economy and to the quality of life we enjoy as American citizens.
This truth was underscored in recent testimony on Capitol Hill by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who said escalating prices and short supplies are already impacting many industries and the result will be lost jobs and significantly higher bills for consumers.
Prices of natural gas have increased sharply. In the meantime, the Department of Energy reports that last winter's unusually cold weather caused significantly reduced natural gas inventories. As a result, supplies of gas in storage are lower today than during previous years.
Fortunately, there are measures the nation can take to address what many experts view as a looming natural gas crisis.
Natural gas is found in abundance here in the United States. Much of it is located beneath public lands that are managed by the Department of the Interior and agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management.
An inventory of federal resources in five key basins in the West concluded that an estimated 57 percent of oil and 63 percent of gas are available under standard stipulations, and 15 percent of oil and 12 percent of gas are totally unavailable. The remaining oil and gas are available with increasing restrictions on development. The inventory did not address other potential constraints to development that result from the permit process and other post-lease conditions of approval. These constraints can add considerable time to the development of natural gas from federal land.
Along the way there are additional roadblocks to development from lengthy and costly lawsuits.
Issues of energy development and environmental protection have been among the most contentious public policy issues of modern times, polarized by the mentality that the two are utterly incompatible.
More than anything else, it is this faulty paradigm that explains how a great nation such as ours, possessing abundant resources of natural gas, could be facing a critical natural gas shortage.
Two years ago, President Bush presented a new National Energy Policy to meet the nation's energy needs. That policy offers a balanced approach that addresses both the demand side of the equation, by promoting conservation, and the supply side, by encouraging development of our domestic energy resources.
The President challenged the nation to move beyond the confrontational, zero-sum thinking that has dominated public dialogue in the past.
"We must work to build a new harmony between our energy needs and our environmental concerns," he said. "Too often, Americans are asked to take sides between energy production and environmental protection . . . as if the people who produce America's energy do not care about the planet their children will inherit. The truth is energy production and environmental protection are not competing priorities. They are dual aspects of a single purpose, to live well and wisely upon the Earth."
Some elements of the National Energy Policy require legislation and these are currently being considered by Congress. Others can be accomplished through administrative actions within regulatory agencies to eliminate unnecessary red tape and improve efficiency. The Bureau of Land Management has initiated a series of measures to improve its management of energy resources and activities, including the processing of applications for permits to drill, without compromising environmental values.
Incremental progress is being made on many fronts. But securing America's energy future will require more than incremental, piecemeal progress. It will require, as the President said, a new harmony between our energy needs and our environmental concerns.
The recent testimony of Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan on the looming natural gas shortage - and its implications for our economy and our quality of life - should add a new sense of urgency to this challenge.
His insight should also prompt us to take a fresh look at how we might improve access to the significant energy resources found on the public lands and provide for responsible development of these resources, development that can be in harmony with our environment.