After giving Kenai civic and business leaders a rundown of congressional votes he termed "wasted time," Alaska Congressman Don Young said 2007 was not a productive year for Congress.
"We are in an energy crisis and we've done nothing," Young told a packed audience attending Wednesday's Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
"We're going to solve our energy crisis by growing corn?" he asked rhetorically, referring to plans to develop ethanol as an alternate energy source.
"That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard," he said. "There's nothing else in the bill."
Although Young said he advocated the development of alternative energy sources including tidal, wind, nuclear and hydroelectric energy as well as energy from the state's vast coal reserves, expanded use of domestic fossil fuels should not be overlooked.
"We don't have a shortage of fossil fuels," he said. "We lack the will to produce that power."
Young criticized the government for putting fossil fuels reserves off South Carolina, California and Florida and in the Rockies off limits, adding those resources can be brought into production without hurting the environment.
"As a state, we have a shortage ... we can't move our natural gas," he said, adding Alaska needs to put more oil in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
He said the state has crude oil resources in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, but "every time we try to open those areas (to offshore lease sales), someone says, 'No.'"
"In the meantime, we are buying fossil fuels from overseas," he said.
Speaking about alternate sources of energy, Young said he is working on getting a small nuclear power plant in Galena, the state needs to develop wind energy in Hatcher Pass and tidal energy, and he once again advocated for the building of a Susitna River dam to produce hydroelectric power.
Studied in the 1980s, the Susitna dam project involves building dams at Devils Canyon north of Talkeetna and at Watana Creek to the east.
Cost estimates for the dams back then ran to more than $5 billion. The state spent more than $130 million studying the idea before it foundered.
Environmentalists and fishing enthusiasts said at the time that the dams would threaten fish and wildlife habitat.
A longtime advocate of the dam project, Young reintroduced the idea in 2003 saying it makes good economic sense and will provide a legacy for future generations. An abundant, cheap source of electricity will attract industry, he said at that time.
Now serving his 18th term in the U.S. House, Young was elected in March 1973, about nine months before the Arab Oil Embargo created an oil crisis in the United States and other western nations, and brought America's dependence on Mideast oil to the attention of the general public.
Following years of congressional debate, a national energy policy was signed into law, yielding little more than a national 55 mph speed limit.
Young said Alaska also needs to develop its coal resources.
"You don't need to burn it," Young said. "You can turn it into liquids ... we have the technology, but we've got to do it."
Besides energy, Young said the next challenge facing Congress is health care.
"I'm not sure how we solve it," he said, listing several problems related to assuring adequate health care for all Americans: "Why is the cost so high? Why is there a shortage of nurses? Why are there not enough doctors? Why is the cost of drugs so high?"
When asked about an impending crisis with Medicare, Young said, "Most doctors now will not accept Medicare patients 'cause they're not getting paid what it costs (to treat them)."
He said the issue is getting more interest in Congress and he believes the doctors will be able to get paid.
He also said Medicare should be considered along with Social Security reform as a total package, but "we have a lot of legislators who won't touch that third rail."
Asked about his thoughts on the war in Iraq, Young said he has always supported President Bush's efforts regarding the pursuit of Saddam Hussein, but the United States did not recognize the fact that in its entire history, Iraq has never been a democracy.
"It's hard to sell a democracy to a society that's never been one," Young said. "If we can keep the infancy democracy going, we will succeed."
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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