The recent drop in gasoline and heating fuel prices is a relief for Americans. And while this respite is welcome, it does not mean our nation's energy problems are solved.
We must learn from summer's painful lessons. The worldwide economic slowdown might have brought prices down from their lofty highs, but we know they can rise as quickly - if not more - than they fall. Already some oil-producing countries are talking about cutting production in an effort to stop the slide in prices.
Our nation needs a sensible, long-term energy strategy that combines conservation with developing domestic sources of energy including oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear power and alternative energy. No one choice is the complete solution; it's going to require a variety of approaches.
Clearly, the United States will continue to need vast amounts of petroleum for the foreseeable future. It's just not possible to switch sources of fuel dramatically, barring some catastrophe that would wreck our economy and our way of life.
It might not be possible to drill our way out of the problem of oil imports as critics contend, but we can - and must - move to increase domestic production to lessen our needs - just as we are doing with natural gas, particularly with the Marcellus Shale layer in Pennsylvania and other nearby states.
We need to look for better ways to use our abundant supplies of coal without causing unnecessary harm to the environment. We are going to have to get over our disdain of nuclear energy to help provide power for our increasingly electric-hungry nation. Certainly, there are safety concerns and disposal dilemmas that must be addressed, but we cannot afford to simply turn our back on these options.
And speaking of alternatives, we must continue to work on other sources of power from wind to solar and from geothermal to renewable. We are not where we want to be with all of these technologies, but progress has been made. And given the size and differing climate of our country, some may be practical in only specific regions.
What we have to do is find the right balance of encouraging development and conservation without creating mandates that have the unintended consequence of forcing other prices up.
While the free market has gotten a bad rap given the recent economic turmoil, it should be a factor in finding the right policy because of its focus on the balance of cost versus benefit.
Finding ways of meeting our energy needs will be an ongoing challenge and will require long-range vision.
There are no quick and easy answers. And while the recent price declines certainly are a relief for our wallets, it will take clear thinking and leadership to keep our needs and costs under control in the decades ahead.