POLITICS:

Christian Coalition visits Hill for energy discussion

The Christian Coalition of America came to Capitol Hill today, not to proselytize or discuss issues like abortion or gay marriage, but to talk about the United States' energy policy and the need to end the country's dependence on foreign oil.

The conservative group often comes to Washington, D.C., to discuss issues with lawmakers, but the "Capitol Hill Roundtable Discussion on Energy" marked the first time the group has focused on energy issues with members of Congress.

The group founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson has traditionally focused on social issues but has broadened its reach in recent years to include the environment and related topics.

Announcing the event, the coalition said in a statement, "We believe that there needs to be a conservative discussion on a national energy policy that speaks to the values of energy independence, national security, prosperity, family and stewardship. That is why we are sponsoring this discussion."

Among the speakers was Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) -- a target of conservatives as he prepares to run for a seventh term next year. He told the assembled group of more than 50 people that "solving our energy crisis is fundamental to ensuring the security, economy and well-being of all Americans."

Larry Schweiger, the president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, lauded the president and CEO of the Christian Coalition, Roberta Combs, for taking a stance that is unusual in the conservative community. Schweiger noted that energy independence is a "family value as well as an issue of faith."

Schweiger said he was concerned about the country's energy policy and that the United States needs to be self-sufficient, end oil subsidies and protect human and natural environments and, "finally, we ought to be strengthening the economy of this nation."

Other speakers who addressed the group were C. Boyden Gray, who was a U.S. special envoy, White House special counsel and ambassador to the European Union under Republican administrations; Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.); Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.); Sen. Richard Burr (S.C.); and Rear Adm. John Nathman, the retired former commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

Gray said, "The United States is drowning in substitutes for oil."

He said the country must become more reliant on natural gas, which is plentiful in the United States, to become less dependent on oil.

A speaker representing the nuclear industry opted not to come to the event in light of the ongoing crisis in Japan.

Gray spoke about the perils the nuclear industry is facing as well as the unrest in the Middle East that is negatively affecting gas prices.

"The solution to it is not going to be found in 'Drill, baby, drill,'" Gray said, "because the increase in U.S. production is not going to be big enough to impact the price."

Meanwhile, Burr promised that legislation he has crafted with Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) will be introduced soon that focuses on promoting multiple forms of energy, including nuclear.

That is not to say that the country has not been "impacted by what has happened over the weekend, the tragedies in Japan," he said -- only that it will take time to figure out exactly what happened.

Gray said the best way is to find a solution to the energy shortage that is not linked to the price of oil and that the country must develop products that are not "held hostage" to events in the Middle East.

He went on to say that "rising oil prices also threaten job growth and economic recovery."

Bartlett said the country reached peak oil production in 2006 and that the United States is now supplementing it with unconventional oil like tar sands from Canada.

"We have got to move to renewables," Bartlett said. "The solution to this problem is not 'Drill, baby, drill' -- it is conservation."

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