Experts Offer Insight on Energy Security

by Peter JohnsonGreat Falls Tribune
March 17th, 2010

Steps to mitigate climate change and revise national energy use are vital to the country’s national security and economic strength, retired Navy Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn told local business and elected leaders Tuesday.

McGinn, one of a dozen three- and four-star admirals and generals who advise the nonpartisan think tank CNA, spoke to a Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce group, along with Matthew Rojansky, executive director of Partnership for a Secure America. That’s an offshoot of a bipartisan group of retired congressional leaders who advised President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

McGinn said there’s little doubt that climate change is occurring, based on scientific and military security studies of increased temperatures and more weather-related disasters.

“We never have 100 percent certainty,” he said, quoting a military colleague. “But if you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield.”

Continuing climate change, which will cause more rain in some areas, drought in others and a higher, hotter ocean more prone to hurricanes, will be “a threat multiplier,” McGinn said.

It will exacerbate conflict in parts of the world that already have division because of religious and political differences, poverty and overpopulation, he said. It also could turn fragile governments into failed governments with more organized crime and terrorist uprisings. That trend could lead to an increased ongoing need for U.S. humanitarian aid and increased world instability, he said.

McGinn said the United States should make efforts to mitigate climate change through improved conservation and by developing cleaner energy.

A comprehensive energy policy that reduces the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels, especially imported oil, also is critical, McGinn said.

The United States uses 25 percent of the world’s oil, but only controls about 3 percent of it, he said, adding the country imports approximately $386 billion worth of oil annually.

“That’s not sustainable” in the future given the political and environmental climates, he said.

The United States has the knowledge, resources and ingenuity to take advantage of those challenges and lead efforts in new, cleaner technology, McGinn said.

However, political bickering and industry dragging its feet at progressive changes are blocking such an effort, he said. McGinn noted, though, that industry officials initially resisted pollution laws and automobile safety rules, but later benefitted from them.

Jeff Barber of Helena, state director of government relations for the Nature Conservancy, liked McGinn’s message that change is needed, not just for environmental reasons but to protect the nation’s security interests and boost its economy.

“Those are resonant points that should appeal to a broad cross-section of Americans,” Barber said after the meeting.

“I absolutely agree that we need better energy control for national security and a strong economy,” said David Weissman, a Great Falls businessman and chairman of the local Central Montana Defense Alliance. “And if the side effects are even cleaner air and water, that’s great, too.”

McGinn predicted that coal will continue to play a major, but decreasing, role in meeting the nation’s energy needs.

He said he favors clean energy efforts, including conducting research to capture and sequester the carbon dioxide emitted when burning coal. He also predicted the U.S. will double its use of nuclear power in the next 25 years, but added the government must help secure financing for such plants and to train nuclear engineers and plant operators.

McGinn and Rojansky also support legislation they said would accurately set the price for carbon used in coal- and oil-powered energy.

McGinn said the price of gasoline soon will rise beyond $3 a gallon when the world economy improves and growing economies such as China and India start using more energy again.

He also said the real price of gasoline in the United States would be more like $7 or $8 a gallon if all hidden taxes, fees and subsidies were factored in, especially the cost of fighting two wars in the Middle East, in part, to protect oil production there.

The proposed carbon pricing method would involve taxing companies that produce carbon dioxide, giving credits to some businesses that can’t adjust quickly and issuing rebates to low- and moderate-income individuals, according to McGinn and Rojansky.

Rojansky said that neither group represented by the men lobbies for specific legislation, but rather they support general policy changes.

He said a comprehensive energy policy that protects U.S. interests while making needed changes is expected to be introduced soon in the U.S. Senate.

Rojansky said early analysis projects 41 senators are likely to support the measure and 29 oppose it, with 30, including Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Democrats, viewed as on the fence.