This time of year, I can’t help but think of my days as a student at Dickinson College. I loved my time at that school and still consider Carlisle my home away from home.

I’m proud of what the institution, its professors and students continue to accomplish. The community has made tremendous strides toward sustainability and its Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM) remains an invaluable program for water resources.

I am, however, saddened that my liberal arts college and its students have chosen to only focus on topics that some in the media consider “trendy” — like energy policy — without thoroughly examining the issues from more than one prospective.

The U.S., and Pennsylvania, are amid a profound energy revolution that won’t be slowing anytime soon. It includes dynamic breakthroughs in shale gas development, pipeline expansion, nuclear and renewables. It has also influenced other outlying factors on issues across the globe, from Russia to the Middle East to Venezuela and beyond — all in America’s favor.

Thus, new opportunities and challenges have arisen as we collectively aim to distribute energy effectively, reliably and affordably.

But conversations about energy can’t happen in a vacuum. They demand a sincere, realistic discussion about the best path forward, domestically and abroad. That’s because the policy decisions we make now will have a lasting impact on families and businesses for generations.

Unfortunately, in today’s political climate, families and small businesses — the driving force behind these markets — often get lost in the endless rounds of predictable, tired political rhetoric.

Case in point: In Pennsylvania, the choices legislators have made on energy have led to a situation where the average family pays $159 per year more than the national average for electricity even though the state is the second-largest producer of nuclear power, the third-largest producer of natural gas and the fourth-largest producer of coal, nationally.

That means Pennsylvanians collectively lose hundreds of millions of dollars in after-tax income every year due to poor policy decisions surrounding energy. This is most egregious when you consider what it means for low-income and fixed-income families, all of whom spend more than 20 percent of their after-tax income on energy bills and gasoline. That’s more than seven times the percentage people with higher wages pay, according to a recent report by Groundswell, a renewable energy advocacy group.

For cash-strapped households working hard to stretch every dollar, these ever-increasing costs often lead to the types of difficult decisions that no family should have to make.

Sadly, this is not limited to a small group of our neighbors. There are 1.85 million Pennsylvanians on food stamps and not enough utility assistance dollars to ease the burden they face.

How is that possible in a state like ours? Moreover, how is it acceptable to taxpayers?

Yes, of course, environmental stewardship is a top priority. But the vocal opposition needs to be balanced by an equally vocal, fact-based approach that acknowledges the reality — and severity — of the situation across the state and nation: Energy poverty is high, and we must have a sensible energy policy that balances their needs with those of the environment. Any one-sided perspective presents a harmful attitude towards the future.

And it’s only through robust dialogue — the hallmark of a liberal arts education – that we’ll truly give credence to an all-of-the-above energy approach that gives families and businesses access to the affordable, reliable energy they need and deserve.

Mike Butler is the Mid-Atlantic Director of the Consumer Energy Alliance and a Dickinson College alumnus.

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