As the cost of fossil fuels primarily from foreign sources continues to escalate, adopting energy conservation strategies and identifying new sustainable sources of energy are no longer just environmental issues, but they also have become economic and national security issues.
That was the message heard time and again Wednesday, Nov. 15, from speakers at a daylong summit on the nation’s energy crisis at Western Carolina University. Hosted by WCU’s Public Policy Institute, the summit brought together about 450 government officials, environmentalists, business people, professors and students to discuss ways to solve the nation’s energy crisis.
In her luncheon keynote address in the Ramsey Regional Activity Center, N.C. Lt. Gov. Beverly Purdue urged attendees to set aside partisan differences to work toward a common goal of energy independence in the name of the economy and the environment.
“We hear too much talk these days about red states and blue states. I want to hear more conversation in North Carolina about becoming a green state,” Purdue said. “We don’t have to fight each other anymore. Business and environmentalists can get along. Business and the environment are not mutually exclusive in the 21st century.”
In fact, developing new energy strategies that protect the environment is becoming big business, she said, pointing to the Jackson County Green Energy Park as a prime example. The recently opened park, located on an old landfill, allows artists and crafters to recover methane gas from the landfill as an alternative energy source.
“Folks are investing their money in these kinds of efforts because they know it’s good business and it’s good for economic development,” Purdue said. “Good for the environment? Yes, but also good for the economy.”
Katharine Ann Fredriksen, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Policy and International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy, reminded the crowd that the energy crisis is a matter of national security.
“To keep the United States strong, we have to continue to make changes in the way we fuel our cars, the way we heat our homes, and the way we use energy in our businesses,” said Fredriksen. “There really is no one silver bullet that is going to solve our energy situation. It takes new thinking. It takes new technology. It takes the active involvement of the private sector, and it takes leadership from leading academic institutions such as Western Carolina University.”
In opening the summit, WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo offered the resources of the university to assist government, entrepreneurs and nonprofit agencies as they work toward a regional solution to the question of how to obtain energy independence.
“We as a university are here to support you and help you think through one of the most critical issues that will affect our region over the next 50 years,” Bardo said. “We are here to help you talk through how we can make Western North Carolina prosperous and keep our high quality of life. No nation, no state, no region can turn over its health and its future to another country or another region. Right now, that’s what is happening through our dependence on foreign oil.”
In addition to panel discussions on the topics of local government and business cooperation, renewable and alternative technologies, and the quest for energy independence, the summit also featured a display of a variety of alternative-fueled and advanced technology vehicles, including gas-electric hybrids, all-electric cars, and vehicles running on biodiesel, ethanol and compressed natural gas.
Established in 1999, WCU’s Public Policy Institute was founded to study issues of importance to Western North Carolina, the state and nation, and to assist in the planning and development of policy issues to address those issues.