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Commentary: By scrapping current policies, nation could spur robust economy
0304Tom Donohue
Thomas J. Donohue

The economic windfall we need to put Americans to work is sitting right off our coasts, under our rocks and in the air and sun.

We have vast quantities of oil, natural gas and coal - enough to power our nation for hundreds of years. We have technology that enables us to develop our resources more safely, cleanly and cost effectively than ever. We have the ingenuity to increase efficiency and add alternative and renewable fuels to our mix.

By taking five concrete steps, we can create more than a million American jobs, cut our dependence on overseas imports and pump hundreds of billions of dollars into government coffers over the next several years.

And while more domestic energy development won't immediately curb soaring gas prices, growing our supply over time will ease the upward pressure on prices as demand from China, India and the developing world continues to expand.

We must start by unlocking federal lands to vastly expand oil and gas production. While there has been some increased production due to past policies, under current policies, 94 percent of federal onshore lands and 97 percent of federal offshore lands are not leased.

By opening up onshore federal lands, we could create 530,000 jobs, reduce imports by 44 percent by 2025, and raise government revenues by $206 billion. Additionally, the administration's five-year offshore leasing plan should be revised to include areas of the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and the Atlantic Coast that were previously open for leasing.

Nearly 190,000 jobs could be created by 2013 if offshore production in the Gulf of Mexico returned to pre-moratorium levels. In Alaska, if the government would allow ramped-up production off the coast, we would create an annual average of 54,700 jobs over the next 50 years and generate upward of $167 billion in new revenue.

Energy producers and entrepreneurs complain that even when new areas are opened for development, they often can't get the permits to proceed. The president should issue an executive order to streamline the permitting process to be fair, predictable, timely and transparent. By removing impediments - such as shortsighted government policies, a legal system run amok, extreme environmentalism and Not-In-My-Backyard activism - we could create 1.9 million jobs annually.

The very first stalled project we should get moving is the Keystone XL pipeline to connect Canada's oil sands with Texas refineries. The project would put 20,000 Americans to work immediately and create 250,000 jobs over the life of the project. It would stimulate local and state economies, raise billions in government revenue, strengthen our energy supply, and lower gas prices. The project has passed every environmental test. It holds too much promise to be a casualty of politics.

We must also ensure a reliable, cost-efficient power supply using new and existing resources. America is still reliant on coal for nearly half of its electricity, so we need to be able to produce, use and export coal safely, cleanly and efficiently, while pursuing renewable technologies.

Finally, we need an all-of-the-above energy strategy to grow and secure the American economy. In addition to oil, natural gas, coal and renewables, we should aggressively pursue nuclear energy. This clean, safe power source is a critical part of our energy mix that already accounts for 20 percent of electricity. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's recent approval of the first new nuclear reactors in 30 years is a positive step, which we must build on without delay.

The president echoed the call for an all-of-the-above approach in a recent energy policy address, but so far, the rhetoric fails to line up with reality.

Energy is the "next big thing" we've all been seeking. It's our clearest path to a more prosperous and competitive country that benefits every American. Our nation's leaders must seize this extraordinary opportunity and launch an American energy revolution.

Thomas J. Donohue is the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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