Local governments lead the way on energy security

By David Ludlam

In 1919, still reeling from World War I, the nation believed oil shale and the hydrocarbon resources of western Colorado would supply America’s future energy needs. Publications like National Geographic magazine concurred with this assessment. Ever since, Colorado energy resources have been a part America’s national discussion about economic security.

In 2010, local elected officials took important steps to turn such talk, into action. The opening of two local compressed natural gas filling stations, in the midst of ongoing instability in the Middle East, shows elected officials in western Colorado understand their opportunity to lead the way on energy security. Congress should more aggressively follow their example.

About one thing we should be clear: Moving a portion of America’s transportation sector to liquefied or compressed natural gas will not replace the real and practical need to have long-term strategic oil positions in energy-rich regions around the world. But, in order for our nation to strengthen our leverage and leadership position in the world, converting our vast transportation system to utilize a clean, plentiful supply of domestic energy is in our collective strategic interest.

Putting compressed natural gas in the fuel tanks of vehicles from 18-wheelers to the family SUV will not only help our environment, it will provide a much-needed boost to our local economy.

For better or worse, American politics allow for change only in short windows of opportunity. It’s usually not until disaster strikes or prices rise at the pump that these windows open and the public regains interest in energy policy that shields us from foreign instabilities. Today, ongoing developments in the Middle East are keeping open the window of opportunity for natural gas vehicles by reinforcing what we all know: Western democracies relying on Middle Eastern autocrats results in the impoverishment of vulnerable populations and the exacerbation of conflicts between nations competing for finite energy resources.

I’m not implying that toppling Middle Eastern autocrats was the first thing on the minds of Grand Junction City Council members when they wisely opted to convert the city’s trash hauling fleet to compressed natural gas. More practical matters were at hand. But the Governor’s Energy Office, local natural gas producers and regional elected officials should be applauded for looking at the big picture and making a decision to invest in practical, local domestic fuels for America’s future transportation needs.

In western Colorado, suspicion pervades the atmosphere surrounding public/private partnerships, with good reason. In the past, they haven’t always worked out for the best. And in a region where free market politics dominate the landscape, sometimes difficulties arise for the private sector and the government working together. Partnerships formed around CNG, however, are succeeding because of the private sector’s investment combined with the public sector’s strategic planning for the future, and broader considerations of things like energy security.

In the coming weeks the city of Grand Junction and the city of Rifle will celebrate the grand opening of new CNG filling stations. While the scale is small, and success may take time, the openings signify something larger and more important. Natural gas is the cheapest, simplest, quickest and most environmentally beneficial transportation fuel available to the Unites States.

No doubt there are challenges and trade-offs (as is the case with all energy decisions). But natural gas vehicles, unlike other solutions, are poised to have an immediate economic and environmental impact in our nation. The technology is well developed, the vast resource base exists and the environmental and air-quality benefits are immediate.

Local officials know this. That’s why they have put their money where their mouths are. As municipalities and private-sector fleets continue converting around the nation, let’s hope federal officials engage with the same vigor and commitment demonstrated locally.

In 2011 Congress must pass legislation similar to the 2010 NAT GAS Act. By doing so Congress will confirm predictions of the early 20th century regarding western Colorado’s ongoing importance as an energy producer, and a cleaner and more secure country will be the result.

David Ludlam is executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.


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