We all saw the scary headlines this spring warning us that an energy crisis was on the way: “The Surging Price of Power,” “3 Dollar a Gallon Gasoline,” “Senators Warn Energy Crisis Could Triple US Power Costs.”

Following on the energy troubles in California, these headlines convinced many people that energy prices were certain to skyrocket.  And then, quicker than you could say “rolling blackout,” we started seeing an entirely different kind of headline:  “What Crisis?” “Has the Madness Subsided?,” and “Drop in Fuel Prices, May Weaken Push for Energy Plans.”

By now, the American people can’t help but be confused.  They’ve got to wonder if we really need a national energy policy.

We believe we do.  And the starting point is the bipartisan legislation now before the U.S. House of Representatives.

A recent report on energy policy by a group of Democratic members of the House of Representatives notes that America’s economic prosperity and national security depend on the “availability of reliable, affordable energy.”   They go on to say that “increasing domestic energy supplies and enhancing our energy infrastructure are the critical components of a balanced national energy strategy.  We are committed to a policy of increased energy production and the environmentally sound use of all energy sources.”

Those findings track with the Bush Administration’s National Energy Strategy. We think a balanced approach to our energy challenges – one that boosts energy efficiency, conservation efforts, and domestic production while at the same time promoting environmental stewardship – is one that both parties, and the majority of Americans, can agree upon.

We are now working together in Congress to pass legislation that embraces that balanced approach and we are confident it will be successful.

Challenges and Solutions

As Energy Secretary and as a Member of Congress we have both found that energy problems are poorly understood.  Here is our view of the energy challenges America is going to confront over the next two decades. And here is how we propose to address that these challenges.

First, the problem.   Over the next 20 years, our demand for electricity will increase by 45 percent, our demand for oil will increase by 33 percent, and by 2020 this nation is projected to consume 62 percent more natural gas than it does today.  But we have constructed barriers to increasing energy production here at home, and our energy infrastructure – that network of transmission lines and pipelines that brings power to homes and factories – is antiquated and out of date

Under current policy, we’ll be forced to fill the gap between supply and demand with foreign imports.  Or, we will have to dramatically scale back our consumption of energy.  That means a major change in the American way of life – less upward mobility, less economic growth, less innovation. This is not the right path for America.

Instead, we propose a bipartisan national energy policy that will help the country meet its energy needs over the next two decades and beyond.

The core of our approach, as we’ve noted, is balance.  We seek a balance in the kinds of fuels we use in this country.  From coal to wind, nuclear to solar, American must have diverse sources of energy to avoid a dangerous dependency on one fuel.

We seek a balance of energy supply not only from the United States but also from around the world.

'Genius of Technology'

And we seek a balance between environmental protection and increased domestic supplies of energy. And despite the critics’ claims, there is no question this can be done.

In fact, during the Clinton Administration, the Department of Energy issued a report, Environmental Benefits of Advanced Oil and Gas Exploration, which details the dramatic advances in exploration technology like computer imaging that revolutionizes the way we find and drill for oil and gas.  We’ve come a long way since wildcatters punched holes in the ground based on a hunch they might hit a gusher.

We ought to judge the merits of ANWR by this reality, not by the fears of those who are 20 years behind the times.

Our bipartisan approach relies on the creative genius of American technology.  We have identified promising research and development into new sources of energy.  We are pushing ahead with plans to build on the success already achieved to maximize environmental protection.  And, we are unleashing the full potential of high technology to make great strides in conserving our use of energy.

Taken together, our bipartisan approach presents an optimistic vision of the future:  one in which energy policy supports and fuels the American economy while protecting the natural treasures of our environment.

Wildly gyrating gas prices, shrill cries of crisis, families fearful that they may not be able to afford the heating oil they need for their homes.  We can avoid this kind of energy future.  But first, Republicans and Democrats must join together in a common effort to meet America’s short and long-term energy challenges.  We cannot afford more bickering over energy policy.  It is now time for us to act.

Spencer Abraham is United States Secretary of Energy and Christopher John is a Democratic Representative from Louisiana.