NSPE Outlines Positions on Energy Issues


August/September 2010

NSPE Outlines Positions on
Energy Issues


HARVE HNATIUK, P.E., F.NSPEIt is rare that a week goes by without front page news about terrorism or national security issues in the United States. There is constant concern about the activities of al-Qaida, Hamas, and other known groups that have admitted to carrying out acts of violence against civilians who did not pose any direct threat to these groups.

This heightened awareness began on the morning of September 11, 2001. Americans know that their world changed in a matter of hours. Before that day, there was no Department of Homeland Security, no Transportation Security Agency, and no security lines at airports.

energyNSPE was at the forefront of the response to the 9/11 attacks, forming the Critical Infrastructure and Homeland Security Task Force (CIHSTF) to investigate ways in which professional engineers could assist in the antiterrorism arena. NSPE was a founding member of and remains involved in The Infrastructure Security Partnership, which brought together professional and technical organizations with construction experts and government agencies to develop best practices for hardening potential targets from attack, improve the resiliency of infrastructure, improve first-response efforts, and focus the right resources at the right places at the right times to provide follow-up mitigation.

Although the CIHSTF was "sunsetted" a few years ago, NSPE's involvement in our nation's security continued through the work of the Legislative and Government Affairs Committee. During discussions at the 2008 NSPE Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon, the committee agreed that energy issues should be identified and addressed and that NSPE should become proactive in providing well-founded recommendations to safely and efficiently produce more energy within our country as a matter of national security.

The group has focused on energy security. Dependence on oil that is produced outside our nation's borders creates unacceptable long-term vulnerability within the U.S. Indeed, the American economy depends on the mobility that our transportation system provides. This system is predominantly used by vehicles fueled by products made from petroleum, much of which is imported. When these imports are disrupted, the security and economy of the U.S. can be severely compromised.

Further development of energy sources within our borders can minimize such problems. The group reviewed NSPE's past energy policy and concluded that it should be updated to reflect present global conditions and ever-advancing technology.

An overarching energy security position statement was prepared to bring this issue to the fore and to recommend that U.S.-based alternative energy sources continue to be developed.  The NSPE Board of Directors approved this position statement in July.

In the near term, domestic production of petroleum can be expanded to cut into imports. Modern technology can be used to provide more long-term domestic oil by using North American oil sands and oil shale. America's vast natural gas resources can also be increasingly tapped. Compressed natural gas is now being used by fleet operators to power some buses and heavy trucks. Ramping up research in this area will undoubtedly reduce production and utilization costs.

Liquid fuels can also be produced from coal, our nation's most abundant energy resource. Biological fuels also have a role in promoting energy security. Emphasis is needed on the development of new vehicles that get more miles per gallon, including improved hybrid vehicles that use electricity.

The position statement notes that the nation's infrastructure and electrical grid will need to be adapted as the number of electric vehicles grows.

Three additional position statements that address nuclear energy, geothermal energy, and natural gas were also approved by the NSPE Board of Directors. The committee is completing work on eight new position statements to further delineate NSPE's stance on energy issues that present challenges and opportunities to our nation and its engineers. The statements address both widely used sources, such as coal, oil, and hydroelectric power, as well as biomass energy, batteries, and other renewable energy sources, like wind and solar.

The next logical step for NSPE and the Legislative and Government Affairs Committee is to carry our message to members of Congress and their staffs as we continue to work toward a better and safer America.

Harve Hnatiuk, P.E., F.NSPE, is a member of NSPE's Legislative and Government Affairs Committee and member at large on the NSPE Board of Directors. He is a former chairman of NSPE's Critical Infrastructure and Homeland Security Task Force.

To read NSPE's position statements, go to www.nspe.org/GovernmentRelations and click on "Take Action."