President Bush and Vice President Cheney's national energy policy feels like a giant finger in the eye of the environmental community: drilling in wilderness areas, promoting coal and nuclear power over efficiency, withdrawing from the climate change treaty. It hurts and angers and, to some degree, it blinds-for the central strategy of the Republican Party does not differ dramatically from that of the Democratic Party.
Maybe it is an inherent problem of trying to design a national energy policy, but Washington appears united in demanding one-size-fits-all solutions-extra large. More giant power plants. More giant oil refineries. More 20-story-tall transmission towers.
We don't need a single top-down remedy. We need a thousand bottom-up remedies. We don't need to figure out how to get more oil from Alaska to Minnesota, or more coal from Wyoming to Illinois, or more electric power from Idaho to Los Angeles. We do need to figure out how to tap into our vast supply of human ingenuity to develop ways to extract more energy from local resources.
Consider what we've done in my home state of Minnesota. Almost 10 percent of our transportation fuel comes from our own farmers. And more than 90 percent of this comes from 10 farmer-owned biorefineries. When Minnesotans fill up at the pump, part of our fuel comes from crops planted just a few miles away. As a result, part of our fuel dollar stays in the local community and nourishes a sector of the society that badly needs nourishing.
Alaska now supplies about 9 percent of our oil. Rather than drilling in pristine wilderness to boost that proportion to, say, 11 percent, why not convert the hundreds of millions of tons of excess crops and agricultural and municipal wastes into transportation fuels?