A New Manhattan Project: Now more than ever

Published 10:41 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2011

By Randy Forbes
U.S. Representative

Last month, I reintroduced my New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence, which calls for 50-percent energy independence in 10 years and 100-percent energy independence in 20 years.

I first introduced the legislation back in 2008, where it was hailed by CNN, the Wall Street Journal and the Virginian-Pilot as one of the most innovative energy solutions before Congress. In 2009, the New Manhattan Project was offered as the alternative to the controversial cap-and-trade energy legislation as a solution that relied on innovation, rather than taxation, to pursue alternative energy and achieve a cleaner environment. Ultimately, the New Manhattan Project was voted down on party lines by the then-Democrat controlled Congress.

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I had a reporter ask me this year why I think the New Manhattan Project should be introduced again in this Congress. “What will be different?” she probed. For me, I said, the reason is simple — I did it because it is right. In fact, now more than ever, I believe the time for the New Manhattan Project is right.

At the end of February, oil prices peaked to a two-and-a-half year high of $120 a barrel due to rumors that Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi had been assassinated. Libya is the world’s 12th largest oil producer, and continued strife within the country and the broader Middle East has impacted the entire petroleum export industry. As a result, our oil prices have continued to fluctuate based on the unpredictable events developing in the Middle East.

But the United States can no longer afford to allow political and economic unrest in other nations to dictate fuel costs, especially at a time when Americans are already feeling economic pain. Along with increasing our domestic supply of energy through drilling and expansion of clean coal and nuclear power, we must begin looking ahead to solve our energy challenges.

While we sit back and allow our gas prices to climb, nations like China are racing ahead in their efforts to achieve energy independence by seizing on technological innovations and making progress in relatively unknown areas like nuclear fusion.

The Chinese Academy of Science announced in December 2009 that it has begun a new round of controlled nuclear fusion experiments. Their success has already exceeded the progress of both European Union scientists and American nuclear experts, who reengaged in fusion research in October 2010.

Nuclear fusion remains relatively unexplored in the United States and is just one of many promising sources of energy that can move the United States toward energy independence. It is also one of the goals listed in my New Manhattan Project.

The project challenges individuals or groups to reach any of seven established energy goals:

  • Doubling car fuel efficiency to 70 MPG while keeping vehicles affordable
  • Cutting home and business energy usage in half
  • Making solar power work at the same cost as coal
  • Making the production of biofuels cost-competitive with gasoline
  • Safely and cheaply storing carbon emissions from coal-powered plants
  • Safely storing or neutralizing nuclear waste
  • Producing usable electricity from a nuclear fusion reaction

There is a reason that so many people have hailed this as the most innovative energy solution in Congress. The New Manhattan Project is the only one that seeks to harness the best in American creativity and ingenuity by creating a competitive environment for scientists and researchers to achieve 100-percent energy independence within 20 years, ending our reliance on foreign sources of oil.

Rather than relying on taxation to achieve energy results, the New Manhattan Project enables the United States to pay for results once we actually get them. Additionally, the bill encourages researchers, groups, educational institutions and businesses to help share the cost of the work towards achieving the goals.

Now more than ever, the time is ripe to make achieving energy independence a top priority for the United States. Now more than ever, I believe we need to catapult our nation towards energy independence and restore our competitive edge across the world. And now more than ever, I believe the New Manhattan Project is the tool to get us there.