Our dependence on foreign fuel can be remedied

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 14, 2008

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation and laid out a bold challenge to put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth — and to do it in less than 10 years.

“Unreasonable,” Americans called it, and “absurd.” To put a man where no human had stepped before, using technology that was not developed, and to do it in less than 10 years was impossible.

But what we saw come out of that decade was a nation that continued to defy the odds and achieve the seemingly impossible, that rose to the challenge once again and changed the course of history.

I still remember listening to the radio in my car as a young teenager when, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong opened the door of Apollo 11 and set his foot where no man in history had stepped before. In that one step, he embodied the very essence of America —combining dreams with hard work and dedication to achieve the seemingly impossible.

With gas prices soaring and no end in sight, I have thought a lot about that lunar challenge in relation to the way we are approaching our energy problem here in the United States. We hear a lot of rhetoric, but as families and individuals across the nation can attest, rhetoric does not offer valid hope for a solution to a problem that is having such a personal impact on Americans.

There are really only three ways that we can change the price at the pump. 1) We increase our oil supply; 2) We decrease our oil usage through conservation; or 3) We develop alternative fuels to replace oil. Perhaps the most frustrating thing to Americans about these three options is that consumers really have control over only option No. 2 — conserving. While this is a fine option and it is readily available right now, consumers lack control over the other two major options that have the most direct impact on the price of gas.

The federal government is the only entity that can do anything about options one or three. I support increasing our supply through drilling for domestic oil, offshore drilling and increasing refinery capacity. Just in the past two years, I have voted to increase supply 14 times.

Unfortunately, the current congressional leadership has repeatedly voted against increasing supply, resulting in the $4-per-gallon price you see at the pump today.

The third option is to increase our use of alternative energy, which requires a major investment in research and development. America is lacking direction in this area, but it holds the most promise for our future energy security as a nation. Our American characteristics of imagination and hard work are still there. We just need a unified, national challenge and a goal to work toward to get there.

Just this week I introduced a bold initiative that will undoubtedly challenge the United States in a significant way. If the goals of this initiative are met, it will get at the very core of our energy problem and we will be an energy-independent nation. The “New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence” challenges the United States to achieve 50 percent energy independence in 10 years and 100 percent energy independence in 20 years.

To achieve this goal, the “New Manhattan Project” will bring together the best and brightest scientists in our nation in a competitive format to effectively research one of seven established energy goals and will award significant prizes to any group, school, team or company that reaches the goal. Any American citizen can participate, and the first person to meet the goals as determined by a “New Manhattan Project” commission of scientists will receive the respective prize. These goals are not easy. The processes to reach them are not simple. And many Americans may think them impossible. But if we do reach them, we will move closer to energy-independence and begin a new way of life in the United States.

Why the “New Manhattan Project?” First, because it will inspire a new generation of math, science, and engineering students, scientists and researchers to overcome a common national challenge. Second, because it was the original Manhattan Project in the midst of World War II that brought together the best scientists and researchers to solve one of the most challenging scientific missions to face our nation — and by pure hard work and dedication to a unified mission, they succeeded. We can do it again.

Some may call it “unreasonable” and “absurd.” Some may say the task is too great and find themselves more comfortable pointing fingers and simply complaining. But I believe in the greatness of America and the American people, and I know that greatness finds its birth in our values and our refusal to quit. Perhaps the “New Manhattan Project” will write a new page in our history books reflecting once again that the size of our accomplishments is only limited by the size of our doors.

U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., represents this region in Congress.