Vol. 42, No. 5

In this Edition

Benjamin Franklin once said that death and taxes are the only things certain. For a time this summer, it appeared that rising gas prices could be added to the list. Although autumn has brought some relief at the pump, there can be little doubt that the energy challenges facing our nation remain.

Gov. Bobby Jindal: Calm in the Storm

With a hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast, Louisiana’s Governor provided his state with steady leadership.

A New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy

At a time when people are looking for solutions to the Nation’s energy challenges, this Tennessee Senator sets forth a bold plan that would provide just that.

What People Pay for Power

What if you had to deposit a coin every time you started your car or turned on you computer? As this energy expert shows us, the costs would quickly add up.

Memo to the President-Elect

Two scholars from the Brookings Institution propose a way for the new Administration to protect our climate and secure our energy future at the same time.

How Technology has Advanced the Drilling Debate

A new consensus has emerged in support of offshore drilling. The reason has less to do with rising gas prices than with the fact that drilling is now safer.

Water, Not Oil, is America’s Most Precious Resource

As the United States focuses on energy security, this Michigan Congressman reminds us about the resource even more critical to our survival.

America’s Energy Grid: Building for the Future

Upgrading our electric infrastructure will require massive investments in energy efficiency programs, generation, transmission, and distribution.

The Use of Nuclear Power in the United States:

Far from being behind the curve compared with other countries, the U.S. leads the world in nuclear generating capacity and is preparing for more.

The Challenges That Lie Ahead

The retiring Senator from Nebraska looks at the domestic and global challenges facing our next President.

The Ripon Profile of Meg Whitman of California, Former CEO of eBay Inc.

Republicans must provide real solutions to the problems facing Americans in every walk of life.

Water, Not Oil, is America’s Most Precious Resource

This past summer, when gas prices were skyrocketing across the country, Congress struggled to find a solution that would immediately help people deal with this new financial burden. It is clear that the crux of the issue lies in our dependence upon crude oil. According to the Energy Information Administration, the cost of crude oil accounts for a large majority of the price of a gallon of gas, and much of the crude oil in our gasoline comes from other countries.

There is no doubt oil and other fossil fuels are precious to America’s vitality today; they facilitate commerce, personal transportation, and recreation. But we are already taking steps in the United States to reduce our dependence on oil by developing alternative energy sources. Although oil is on everyone’s mind, I believe we should be focusing on a more fundamental resource: Clean water.

Congressman Ehlers discusses the environmental health of the Great Lakes at a 2006 press conference held on the banks of the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids.
Congressman Ehlers discusses the environmental health of the Great Lakes at a 2006 press conference held on the banks of the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids.

As an environmentalist, I know clean water is America’s most important natural resource. I am not the only one. Even T. Boone Pickens recently began shifting away from the oil business to purchase water rights in Texas. Like oil, water facilitates commerce, transportation, and recreation. More importantly, it sustains us as human beings. In fact, our bodies consist largely of water. Water also supports a variety of wildlife in ecosystems ranging from the Great Lakes to isolated wetland areas. Years of industrial pollution, agricultural runoff, and the irresponsible disposal of harmful materials has created a toxic habitat for wildlife and organisms, and has made some waters unhealthy for human contact. This has created an extremely challenging situation because we are simultaneously trying to clean up decades-worth of pollution while protecting our waters from new contamination.

Since the Great Lakes account for about 84 percent of America’s surface fresh water supply, it is critical that they are a high priority for protection. I was able to help pass an important piece of legislation for the Great Lakes during the 110th Congress, which President Bush recently signed into law. The Great Lakes Legacy Reauthorization Act will extend the authorization for one of the most successful federal water cleanup programs in history. The original Great Lakes Legacy Act, which I authored in 2002, targeted cleanup efforts at polluted areas of concern in Great Lakes tributaries where toxic sediment threatened to spread into the lakes, where it would be much more difficult to clean up. Around one million cubic yards of toxic sediment has been removed so far, and five areas of concern have been successfully remediated of contamination. The reauthorization bill will extend the program by two years at $50 million dollars per year. I hope we can increase the authorization level to $150 million in the next Congress, as we did in the House-passed version this year.

In addition to pollution, the Great Lakes are threatened by large-scale water diversion to other parts of the country. Despite their large size, the Great Lakes are an extremely fragile ecosystem, and large-scale diversions of water from the Great Lakes basin to arid parts of the country could be devastating. That is why Congress ratified the Great Lakes Compact this year, which gives states in the region control of how the water supply is used. There are consequences for over-developing arid parts of the country, and the Great Lakes cannot sustain explosions in development in arid locations such as the southwest. If you want a nice, sustainable green lawn, please consider moving to my home state of Michigan!

As an environmentalist, I know clean water is America’s most important natural resource.

While the Great Lakes are a very important part of America’s fresh water supply, all of our fresh water sources are critical. Lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands all play an important role in supplying our country with fresh water, and provide habitats for a diverse and essential array of wildlife and organisms. One of the biggest threats to inland waterways is aging municipal wastewater systems around the country. Events known as combined sewer overflows occur when heavy rains overwhelm old combined sanitary and storm sewers, forcing sewage to overflow into waterways, contaminating water miles downstream and getting into lakes.

My home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has taken great steps toward separating its storm system from its waste sewage system to prevent combined overflows from happening. The city was able to make these improvements partly because of the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which provides local governments, such as the City of Grand Rapids, with very low interest loans to help pay for infrastructure improvements. I regret that this federal program has seen funding cuts in recent years, and I will continue to advocate for higher funding levels in the next Congress. I included a $20 billion reauthorization of the Revolving Loan Fund in the Great Lakes Collaboration Implementation Act, which I am hopeful Congress will take up and pass next year.

Neglecting America’s precious fresh water resources today would result in devastating consequences in the future. In Michigan, I know the Great Lakes will be integral to our struggling economy as we transition into new forms of business. Water is a critical resource for many forms of business and industry. If used responsibly, bountiful clean water would result in an economic boom for the state.

Conserving water in the Great Lakes basin, and around the country, will ensure that we do not run out of this limited resource. Some arid states are already taking highly effective steps to conserve, which will have a major impact on the fresh water supply around the country. For example, Arizona has implemented cutting edge conservation technologies in agriculture, and is developing new ways to save water in residential landscaping and at businesses by using water-saving devices such as front-loading washing machines and water-efficient toilets. Though it has a long way to go, the state is making great strides in sustainability, which will help to ensure clean water remains available to future generations.

We need clean, fresh water to survive. Now, it is also clear that we will rely on clean water for the economic survival of our nation. Like oil, fresh water is not a limitless resource, and we must proceed with caution in how we utilize our water resources. I am sure that the future of our society will hinge on the availability of fresh water, and on our careful stewardship of this precious natural resource.

Vernon J. Ehlers represents the 3rd District of Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives.