The energy policies set forth by the Congress will determine the fate of our nation's economic well-being for years to come.
The choice is clear. If we maintain the status quo, and continue to prohibit the use of our own energy - especially our vast offshore reserves - America will become a second-rate nation and generations to come will not enjoy the same standard of living we do today.
If we unlock these reserves, we will stop the export of wealth - $700 billion annually - and begin to put our nation on the road to energy independence. This will create hundreds of thousands of good-paying, family-sustaining American jobs.
That said, America is so far behind the world energy curve that we are approaching the point of no return. Every day we fail to address this crisis, our dependence on foreign sources of energy grows and thousands of jobs move offshore to countries where energy is more affordable and reliable.
Congress can remedy this situation by approving the National Conservation, Environment, and Energy Independence Act - a House bill that has been in a lengthy holding pattern because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., simply refuses to allow a vote on it.
The legislation not only will put our great nation on the road to energy independence through increased domestic production of natural gas and oil, but also will serve as a strong bridge to the renewable energy future.
By using a significant part of the offshore royalties that the government would receive from leasing additional lands for energy exploration and production, we can fund the development of next-generation fuels such as wind, solar and geothermal.
Further, it will provide research funds for carbon sequestration and the reprocessing of nuclear waste, which are key to clean-coal technologies and the expanded use of nuclear power. The bill also dedicates more than $1 trillion to the restoration and preservation of our nation's waterways, conservation districts and national parks.
Opening up our vast deep-ocean reserves to energy exploration will send a loud and clear message to the global oil market: America means business and will secure its energy future through domestic production - not foreign dependence.
Furthermore, harvesting oil and natural gas offshore is one of the safest and most environmentally friendly places to produce energy. In fact, according to the National Academies of Science, less than 1 percent of the oil in American waters is caused by extraction - the vast majority of oil in our oceans occurs through natural seepage. Natural gas exploration has never damaged a shoreline nor harmed marine life.
So just how much oil and natural gas is there underneath the ocean floor? The Minerals Management Service, the federal agency tasked with overseeing offshore oil and natural gas production, conservatively estimates the Outer Continental Shelf contains 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
That's the equivalent of 35 years of imported OPEC oil and a 15-year supply of natural gas.
What's more, the Minerals Management Service's assessment is based on 30-year-old technology - the equivalent of watching a 1970s black-and-white TV compared to today's high-definition flat-panel TV. Just like cell phones and computers, oil exploration and drilling technology has evolved safely over the years as well.
While there is no silver bullet for solving today's frustrating energy crisis, expanded domestic production of fossil fuels, increased investment in alternative fuels and conservation can begin to unhook us from our unhealthy addiction to foreign oil.
Rep. John E. Peterson is a six-term Republicanfrom Pennsylvania.