Interview With The Honorable Tom Ridge – First Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security
The Honorable Tom Ridge is president and CEO of Ridge Global, an international security and risk management company headquartered in Washington, DC. Ridge, twice elected governor of Pennsylvania, served as the first Assistant to the President for Homeland Security following the events of September 11, 2001, and in 2003 became the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
I met Governor Ridge when he was the keynote speaker at a Nemacolin Energy Institute event I attended. I knew he was a decorated hero; among his honors he had earned the Bronze Star for Valor for his distinguished service in Vietnam. But I didn’t realize what a patriot he truly is until I listened to him speaking about the importance of reducing energy dependence on foreign oil to our national security. I have also come to appreciate what a down to earth and gracious person he is. His dedication and commitment to helping create a stronger America is genuine. I was also very impressed with his knowledge about branding and the importance of protecting the authenticity of Brand America’s promise.
I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with Governor Ridge and I know you will enjoy reading this interview. My secret hope is the next conversation the Governor and I have will take place fly-fishing together on one of Pennsylvania’s amazing trout streams. For me, that would be a quintessential American moment.
At a recent Nemacolin Energy Institute event, you made a compelling case that the United States needs a comprehensive energy policy as a matter of national security. I was impressed with your thoughts on how such a policy can help protect our nation from being subject to energy diplomacy practiced by countries that do not necessarily have our best interests at heart. What are your top line thoughts?
Our nation imports 3.5 billion barrels of oil annually. That is roughly three times more than we imported in 1973. For perspective, in 2010, our bill for foreign oil was a quarter trillion dollars. It is one thing to import oil from allies like Canada, but we also import from nations like Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Nigeria, Venezuela and Chad. These OPEC member nations do not necessarily have America’s best interests at heart. In fact, all are on the U.S. Department of State’s travel warning list. We spend about half the dollars we export (nearly $1 billion a day) for oil from OPEC members, and yet it is not safe for Americans to physically be in their countries. There is something fundamentally wrong with this situation.
We live in an energy rich nation, with all the resources required to chart the course of our own destiny, and without the need to be subject to energy diplomacy that potentially compromises the full realization of America’s potential and limits our economic competitiveness. What we lack is a comprehensive national energy policy that provides appropriate stewardship of those resources for the benefit of our citizens and the generations of Americans to come. The more energy the United States sources from within our borders and from our strongest allies, the less dependent we would be on the Middle East. Rather than have our future economic prosperity arbitrarily capped, we would be in a much better position to achieve the full potential of our great nation.
I believe natural gas can play a mission critical enabling role in reducing America’s dependency on foreign oil. Natural gas is an important energy source. It can be the engine of growth for our nation stimulating both innovation and new job creation. As an export product, natural gas can also help ensure a balance of trade in our globally interdependent world.
We need an all-in energy policy that represents a real collaboration across all energy sectors including renewables, coal, nuclear, natural gas and everything in between. A policy that is realistic, synergistic and practical based on a genuine appreciation for how becoming less reliant on foreign energy supplies is synonymous with making our nation more secure.
In my opinion, energy and national security are interdependent, interconnected and inseparable.
As a founding Board member of the Nemacolin Energy Institute, my fellow Board members and I couldn’t agree more with your clarion call for a comprehensive national energy policy. What do you see in the way of creating one?
There are two key reasons in my mind.
First, our political system is crisis focused and doesn’t easily embrace visionary leadership. Developing a comprehensive energy policy is a long-term focused exercise. It transcends the typical four-year planning cycle of elected officials. Success relies less on politics that is unfortunately common and more on genuine statesmanship, which is disappointingly rare.
Second, we have never had a President who has come forward with an all-in energy proposal that includes appropriate regulations to ensure proper stewardship of our natural resources. Presidents have focused on one or two energy sources for development. But what we need is a collaborative model rather than an internally competitive one. We should not promote one source of energy to the exclusion of others. We should use of all of them. We are an energy country.
Technology for horizontal drilling has unlocked the potential for getting energy from shale deposits around the world. Your home state of Pennsylvania, is leading the way in extracting and commercializing shale gas from the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale deposits. What role do you envision for shale gas in an all in national energy policy?
When gas is extracted from shale deposits by hydraulic fracturing, it provides a low environmental impact compared to other base load fuels. It has virtually zero particulate emissions. The technology is well understood and when this form of drilling is done properly, it has an excellent environmental safety profile.
Commercial development of the Marcellus and Utica Shale deposits will make a positive impact on the community of our nation at a time when accelerated job creation is needed to restore economic growth. And the jobs are not limited to the natural gas industry. Jobs will be created in virtually every industrial sector from transportation to manufacturing to construction. Study after study confirms the economic impact of commercial development of the Marcellus Shale deposit, and the Utica Shale deposit may hold similar or greater potential.
A lot of people don’t realize that the Marcellus Shale deposit by itself has the potential to deliver as much energy as Saudi Arabia. When commercialized, that will have a meaningful impact on energy availability and pricing.
In addition to the economic benefits, commercial development of gas from shale deposits also allows time for continued research and development of other energy sources that would have an important role to play in an all-in national energy policy. It will dramatically improve the probability of realizing the full potential of sources like biomass conversion, wind and solar- sourced energy.
As you look forward, how optimistic are you in the ability of Brand America to be more globally competitive?
There has never been any doubt in my mind; a highly motivated, educated, entrepreneurial and innovative country like America can successfully compete with any nation in the world. But, to effectively compete we need to avoid the trap of adopting a victim mentality. It is definitely true that the world is not an even playing field for all competitors and there are a number of circumstances that put America at a competitive disadvantage in the global market place, and they should continue to be a priority to address. However, to achieve our nation’s full potential, we need to regain our swagger, look the competition square in the eyes and tell them we are going to out compete you in spite of the advantage you may have.
American’s love to win. It is in our DNA. That is why we have so many arm chair athletes on Sunday. We thrive on competition and we expect to win regardless of the odds. Our nation’s history is a testimony to our resourcefulness and determination to succeed.
We need to stop blaming other countries’ success as a reason for our failure. We need to focus on big innovation and delivering a world-class education to our children. We need to look in the mirror and pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.
Developing the natural gas industry, creating and implementing a national energy policy, providing a stable source of low-cost energy to more effectively compete in global markets, and benefiting from the technological advances that will result from that pursuit, will serve to rekindle the competitive spirit we need to not only be globally competitive but also be the leading nation in every measure of importance.