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Guest Editorial

Abandoned military bases would make good energy centers

BY DON C. BRUNELL

President Bush believes abandoned military bases would make good sites to build oil refineries. He's right, but he should carry that thought one step further and make them energy centers. The time is right to act on the President's concept. The Pentagon just announced the list of base closures, and those military installations already have the security and infrastructure in place for new oil refineries and power plants.

Many of those bases also have Superfund sites and some of the money generated from energy sales could pay for hazardous waste cleanups.

We all agree that America needs energy independence. We've just wasted too many years differing over how to become energy self-sufficient. The insipid debate over our nation's energy policy leaves us increasingly dependent on foreign oil and gas, some of which comes from unfriendly countries.

Meanwhile over the last decade, the federal government estimates our energy consumption jumped by 12 percent, yet our domestic production increased by only 0.5 percent. Demand for gasoline is growing 3.5 times faster than refinery production, and the last new refinery built in the United States was completed in 1976.

One of the newest refineries is in Washington state. The BP refinery at Cherry Point near Bellingham was constructed in the early 1970s to process crude from Alaska's North Slope. In total, our state's five refineries provide 4 percent of the nation's processing capacity.

If our energy deficit and lack of refinery capacity aren't enough to cause us concern, consider that China's ravenous economy has huge energy demands. For example, by 2020 China will import as much oil as the United States, and some of it will be refined as gasoline and diesel. Without increased domestic refinery capacity, today's $2.50 a gallon gasoline may look like a bargain to our kids.

Not only do military bases have roads, water, waste treatment and beefed-up security already in place, but U.S. Army installations, in particular, have lots of open space in which to build refineries. For example, more than a decade ago the government closed Ft. Ord, a 28,600 acre base near Monterey along the central California coast.

That base was established in 1846 and many American soldiers took their basic training there alongside rattlesnakes, jackrabbits and tumbleweed. It has been well used over the years and is ideal for a refinery or for a nuclear, gas-fired or coal-burning power plant or a combination thereof.

It is located between San Francisco and Los Angeles, places with mammoth electricity needs and tens of millions of cars, trucks and buses to fuel.

These new facilities could be built in remote parts of the bases out of sight and offer miles of desert to buffer them from people in the remote case of an accident. New technology such as the Generation IV nuclear plants, which produce hydrogen and electricity, are safer and environmentally friendly.

Those refineries and energy plants also create jobs for Americans. For example, each of Washington's 1,725 oil refinery jobs generates an additional dozen spin-off jobs, and jobs in refineries and power plants require highly skilled people and provide good pay and benefits.

So, Mr. President, you are on the right track. The idea of focusing energy production on former military bases is a way to break the political logjam and finally get to a strategy that really drives us toward energy independence.

Don C. Brunell is President of the Association of Washington Business.

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