A tribute to Roscoe Bartlett
Here in the Washington DC area and around the nation, election day was a constant stream of poll results, election updates, and pundit analysis. But missed by many was the contest in Maryland’s 6th district, where Roscoe Bartlett – the second-oldest serving member of the US House of Representatives – was denied his bid to serve his district for an 11th term.
The 6th district that Bartlett served was formerly a collection of rural communities in Western Maryland. After the 2010 Census, however, the district boundaries were redrawn to include parts of the Washington DC suburbs. The change in voter demographics made Bartlett’s campaign an uphill battle. Analysts considered Bartlett to be one of the most vulnerable congressional incumbents this election cycle.
In losing Congressman Bartlett, the U.S. Congress has also lost its “Mr. Peak Oil.”
There have been many titans of public education about Peak Oil and our collective energy challenges–names such as Matt Simmons, Richard Heinberg, Robert Hirsch, and many many more–but only one, Roscoe Bartlett, did it from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Prior to his election to the Congress, Bartlett worked for more than twenty years as a scientist and engineer on research and development programs for the military and NASA. His scientific background fueled his understanding of America’s energy challenges and his desire to explain these critical issues to others.
And he did just that. In March 2005, armed with a collection of huge charts – around 30 in all., he stood on the House floor to give the first of many lonely speeches. The world has less and less oil to offer, he told the near-empty House chamber. The age of cheap energy is ending, he explained. And if the U.S. did not start adapting, it was in for a shock.
Few heard Bartlett’s hour-long talk, save perhaps the House presiding officer and the unblinking eye of the C-SPAN cameras. But Bartlett would continue to haul his charts to the House floor and present his lecture–again, and again, and again. He presented his talk over 50 times in recent years.
Bartlett’s Peak Oil page on his congressional website summarizes his views:
“Oil and natural gas are not forever. They are finite resources. The U.S is relying upon countries that do not like us to sell us their oil. We are competing against other countries to buy oil, such as China, which is now the world’s #2 importer behind the United States. Increasing world demand and global peak oil, or stagnating production, means that oil prices will rise.
The end of cheap oil and natural gas is coming and coming fast. My hope is that more attention is going to be focused not only on the problem of global “Peak Oil”, but possible solutions to meet this challenge with the same drive and ingenuity our leaders and great minds put into getting a man to the moon.”
In time, Bartlett’s persistence won him the respect and admiration of many of his congressional colleagues. In 2005, he joined with Rep. Tom Udall (now Senator Tom Udall) to establish the Congressional Peak Oil Caucus.
A Wall Street Journal article recalls the time Bartlett took a condensed version of his Peak Oil lecture directly to the Oval Office for a 2006 one-on-one talk with President Bush.
In 2006-7, Bartlett was part of a Congressional group that requested that the US Government Accountability Office examine the Peak Oil issue, leading to the GAO report: “Uncertainty about Future Oil Supply Makes It Important to Develop a Strategy for Addressing a Peak and Decline in Oil Production.”
In 2009, Bartlett introduced House Resolution H.RES.11 that stated “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States… should establish an energy project with the magnitude, creativity, and sense of urgency that was incorporated in the `Man on the Moon’ project [to] address the inevitable challenges of `Peak Oil’.”
Later that same year, he co-authored a bill (HR 2326) which sought to establish an interagency working group charged with developing “a peak oil strategy for Federal departments and agencies to develop contingency plans in the event of a peak and subsequent annualized decline of 4 percent of world oil production… and to provide timely advice to Congress about cost-effective measures to mitigate the potential negative consequences of such a peak.”
For all of these reasons and more, ASPO-USA created the Roscoe G. Bartlett “Truth in Energy” Award in his honor in 2008. In 2006, he was awarded ASPO-USA’s M. King Hubbert Award for his tireless leadership in the Congress to promote efficiency, conservation, and a proper understanding of Peak Oil concepts.
As he prepares to leave the US Congress, one hopes that Bartlett’s words from a 2008 interview will resonate with his colleagues old and new:
“I would just encourage colleagues in public office to be knowledgeable and to be honest…”
As America grapples with its collective energy challenges now and in the future, we shall need many more public officials in the Bartlett mold, with the same integrity to explain difficult truths and the courage to think uncomfortable thoughts.
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