Did you know that in just a few short weeks on Oct. 1, Americans could be celebrating American Energy Freedom Day? That's the day the bans on oil shale and offshore drilling for oil and natural gas will expire. Let's declare 'energy freedom' on Oct. 1

By Sen. Jim DeMint

Did you know that in just a few short weeks on Oct. 1, Americans could be celebrating American Energy Freedom Day? That's the day the bans on oil shale and offshore drilling for oil and natural gas will expire.

Right off American shores there are reserves estimated to hold over 18 billion barrels of oil and 55 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Natural gas is an environmentally friendly energy source and large amounts are available just off South Carolina's shore. And in America's West, oil shale is estimated to be between 800 billion and 2 trillion barrels of oil -- that is more than three times the proven oil reserves in Saudi Arabia alone.

Tapping these important sources of American energy is desperately needed to lower gas prices and reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil.

For over 20 years, Democrats have blocked access to this American energy by attaching a ban on offshore drilling and oil shale onto yearly appropriations bills. But Republicans realize that this 1970's anti-energy mentality is tired, wrongheaded and simply out of gas. If Congress simply does nothing, and allows the current bans to expire, then on Oct. 1 Americans will be free to pursue vast amounts of our own energy.

Increasing our nation's own oil and gas supply is critical to our energy security, but we must also give Americans the freedom to pursue other sources of American energy including nuclear, hydrogen, wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and more.

Nuclear power is a clean and abundant energy source that can power our economy's future. Over the last thirty years other countries like France have dramatically increased nuclear plants and currently have an energy surplus, selling excess energy to neighboring European states. Unfortunately, congressional Democrats have blocked new nuclear facilities in the United States.

As we pursue these alternative and renewable energies, we must also meet today's ever-increasing energy demand. It only makes sense to drill here and drill now so we can keep our nation strong and secure.

If a compromise like the Gang of 10 plan is offered, I will oppose it because it raises taxes that will increase energy prices, and it permanently extends portions of the bans in several states along the West Coast. In the case of California, the Gang of 10 plan keeps new offshore drilling permanently banned while that state consumes the most fuel and already allows drilling in some state waters. Why should California be exempted while states like South Carolina contribute to our national energy security? Allowing the ban to simply expire is a much better alternative.

However, it is our understanding Democrats will try to stop American Energy Freedom Day by sneaking a new drilling ban in a must-pass government spending bill before the current bans expire at end of September.

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are so beholden to extreme environmentalists that they would rather force a government shutdown than help lower the cost of gas and home energy for struggling American families. This is a battle we shouldn't have to face, but one that we can not shy away from.

Last month, 39 senators joined me in writing these Democrat leaders a letter warning them that we will oppose any attempt to extend the ban on American energy beyond Oct. 1.

In fact, this energy showdown could be the most important vote we take this year. Democrats seem to think it is a good idea to keep sending more than $700 billion annually to foreign countries to supply our oil and gas. But if you think we should drill here and drill now, join us in letting the Democrat leadership, including South Carolina's own Jim Clyburn, know that on Oct. 1, we want to celebrate Energy Freedom Day. If you believe that it's time to produce American energy and lower gas prices -- stand up and tell all these Democrat leaders to step aside.

One way to support our cause is to go to our new Web site at www.energyfreedomday.com and sign the online petition to Pelosi and Reid.

Nothing in Congress ever comes easy, but if we all work together, we can finally begin to solve America's energy problems.

Senator Jim DeMint is a Republican from South Carolina. This op-ed originally appeared in the Greenville News (South Carolina).

September 10, 2008
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