Rep. Peterson will leave a bipartisan energy legacy

US Rep. John E. Peterson (R-Pa.) could take some pride in watching Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing moratoriums expire on Sept. 30. But he also was enough of a realist to realize that more work needs to be done, even though he is leaving Congress at the end of the year.

"Seven years ago, when I began the fight to open up our vast offshore energy reserves, I could count on one hand the number of supporters," he said on Sept. 24 after the House approved a continuing resolution to keep the federal government running through March 6, 2009, which also abolished more than 20 years of federal OCS leasing bans.

"As the days and years passed, the American people began to understand this issue and realized the United States Congress was the number one obstacle impeding the expansion of domestic energy production. Today, their voices were heard," Peterson said.

Allowing the bans to expire should only be the beginning, he continued. "Congress needs to create an environment where scientists and entrepreneurs can work together and create next-generation energy sources like coal-to-liquids, coal-to-gas and the reprocessing of nuclear waste so we can end our dependence on imported oil and transition to a clean energy future," he said.

'Work across the aisle'

Federal lawmakers also need to find ways to increase domestic refining capacity, reform litigation and streamline regulatory permitting processes, Peterson maintained. "In the coming years, it is of the utmost importance that members of Congress continue to work across the aisle and find reasonable and effective solutions to the energy crisis," he said.

This is one case where a member of Congress practiced what he preached. Peterson and Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Ha.) cosponsored bills for several years to lift the OCS leasing moratoriums. They went farther in 2008 and established a bipartisan energy working group. Its proposed legislation would have funded alternative and renewable energy research and development with part of the revenues from new OCS leasing.

Their bill attracted more than 170 co-sponsors by mid-September, including several key members of committees which would have had jurisdiction over it. It also was ignored by both parties' House leaders who seemed more interested in election year confrontations.

'Locked in political positions'

"They were locked in political positions and didn't think they could move. The people in our group came in with more flexible approaches because they wanted to come up with a solution," a staff member for one of the co-sponsors told me.

In remarks on the House floor on Sept. 24, Peterson urged other House members not to follow the last three US president or the past 14 Congresses who did not make energy a major priority.

"This is more of a crisis than many people believe. The future availability of energy will determine whether our people can stay in their homes, can feed their families, can travel to work and whether companies can afford to stay in this country," he said.

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