Weinstein, who visited The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet on Thursday, is the director of the Center for Economic Development and Research. The Center was established in 1989 to provide economic analysis and consulting services to university constituents in the private, non-profit, and public sectors. He also serves as director of the Institute of Applied Economics, which offers masters degree programs in economic development. The Center works on energy grants and contracts research into the energy field, exploring alternate forms of energy that could help the nation’s “dependence on foreign oil.”
“We need to diversify our energy dependence,” Weinstein said, adding that while the energy crisis was a major talking point of the Presidential elections it has since fallen by the wayside in the wake of the recent “Wall Street crisis.” He said he doesn’t think that energy will be a dominating issue in the Presidential debates as it would have been had the American economy not taken the turn it recently has. He said that a recent energy bill died in Washington but he hopes it will be taken back up when the new President, whoever he may be, takes office.
“And while I am pretty sure I know who that is going to be, no, I’m not going on record with that one,” he smiled.
Weinstein said that the U.S. imports 60 percent of its oil, and “a sizeable portion comes from areas that are politically unstable and are not necessarily friendly to the U.S.” Despite that, Weinstein does not think that the nation needs to be “independent” in acquiring and utilizing fuel but should explore domestic energy supplies. He noted that less than two weeks ago the House of Representatives passed a bill that he called “more of a gesture” than action, since it mandates that offshore drilling for oil on the Outer Continental Shelf be done over 50 miles off shore.
“There are proven reserves of oil on the OCS, along the Gulf Coast and the seaboards, but most of it is within 50 miles of the shores,” Weinstein said. “A lot of it is still prohibited.”
He said that American oil reserves on land are “almost tapped out,” and oil production in Texas, historically the richest land oil base on the continental U.S., has steadily declined in the past 30 years. The same, he added, can be said for Alaska.
Weinstein said that the global opinion that Americans are “energy hogs” is false. He said that the U.S. is probably the highest nation when it comes to energy conservation in the world, and that it currently uses half as much energy as it outputs, compared to thirty years ago.
“This nation has become very, very efficient,” Weinstein said. “But we need to do all we can to utilize alternative energies.”
Those alternative energies include coal – of which Weinstein said the U.S. is the richest in the world and could power the country for the next 300 years – nuclear, solar and wind power. Weinstein said companies are building more coal and nuclear plants, but the former has a reputation of being “dirty,” and nuclear plants take over 10 years to build and license. He said scientists are working of ways of making coal burn “cleaner,” in which the released carbon dioxide is sequestered and either disposed of underground in salt domes or recycled.
“This is a promising technology of the future,” he said, “but we need an alternative in the present.”
On the local level, Weinstein said that people can conserve energy by taking “common sense measures,” such as properly insulating their homes, adjusting their thermostat a few degrees seasonally, conserving electricity when a room is not occupied and changing to energy-conserving light bulbs. Of course, utilizing public transportation, switching to a more fuel-efficient vehicle and carpooling are effective ways of conserving fuel, but Weinstein said it’s going to take leadership at the national level and developing domestic energy sources to really get the situation under control.
“Nationwide, alternative energy sources only make up one percent of energy usage,” Weinstein noted. “We need to utilized every energy opportunity we can.”
Editor’s Note: Tomi L. Wiley is the managing editor of The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet.