With rising gasoline prices hitting consumers at the pump and continued instability in the Middle East, I have tried to make energy production a point of debate this year in the U.S. Senate, and it’s likely to be an important topic in this year’s presidential election as well.

The President, as most Americans know, understood when he took office that our nation’s powerful economy is dependent on cheap and reliable energy and that our growing dependence on foreign sources of energy threatened the stability of our economy — indeed, threatened our national security. Upon taking office he quickly assigned the Vice President to review the status of both world energy markets and our domestic energy needs. The Vice President swiftly and comprehensively completed the task and the President, in May, 2001, published his National Energy Policy.

The document contained 105 suggested actions aimed at overhauling our nation’s energy policy. More than half of the domestic recommendations in that document are focused on conservation, environmental protection, renewable and alternative energy production, and measures to assist consumers hurt by high energy prices. The energy bill currently stalled in Congress adopted those recommendations. Apparently, that was not enough for Senator Kerry and many other Senate Democrats that continue to oppose energy legislation by refusing to allow an up or down vote on the pending Conference Report for H.R. 6, “The Energy Policy Act of 2003.” Ironically, that bill does have a majority in the Senate supporting the bill.

Those facts notwithstanding, President Bush and Senator John Kerry have starkly different views of how best to improve the quantity and reliability of America’s energy supplies. For proof, let’s take a look at the key elements of their energy proposals. President Bush supports exploration of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to make use of untapped oil resources in the region. Senator Kerry favors increasing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandates. Deeper examination of those policies shows us that President Bush has a more reliable plan for overcoming the energy challenges America now faces.

Raising CAFE standards would not increase America’s energy supply by a single barrel. The possible benefits of higher CAFE standards depend on the reduced use of gasoline in cars. The government measures the fuel economy of every automobile that enters the U.S. market (the number is marked on the sticker you find on new cars) and mandates that the average fuel economy across an automotive company’s entire fleet of cars meet a certain target — currently 24 miles per gallon. Senator Kerry’s plan is to raise that average to 36 miles per gallon, in hopes it would lead to less oil consumption in the United States.

On the other hand, the U.S. Department of the Interior estimates that at least 9 billion and as many as 16 billion barrels of oil lie untapped under the coastal plain of ANWR. Pumping such vast oil resources to the surface would reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil — a situation that currently results in our sending more than $55 billion a year out of America and into oil-producing countries.

Raising CAFE standards or obtaining oil from ANWR would also have a vastly different impact on job creation and economic growth in America.

In a time when our economy is recovering and beginning to add jobs, Senator Kerry’s proposed 50 percent increase in CAFE standards would cost jobs and reduce economic output. The government’s Energy Information Administration estimates that Kerry’s increase would lead to 450,000 job losses — most concentrated in the automotive industry. Those massive job losses explain why the United Auto Workers are firmly opposed to raising CAFE standards as drastically as Senator Kerry proposes.

In addition to job losses, higher CAFE standards would result in $170 billion in lost economic output. Losses to U.S. automakers alone are estimated at about $9 billion.

In contrast, tapping into the oil reserves in ANWR would produce jobs through the construction of temporary facilities to access the coastal plain and to bring up the oil from deep under the surface. American workers would build those facilities and American workers would operate the pumps. All told, developing oil production facilities on the ANWR coastal plain would generate anywhere from 250,000 to more than 700,000 jobs. Unlike Kerry’s plan, major labor unions have endorsed the President’s plan for ANWR exploration.

Those jobs and the oil we bring to market would also have an extraordinarily positive impact on America’s economy. From 1980 to 1994, oil production on the North Slope of Alaska added more than $50 billion to our nation’s economy and directly benefited every state in the union. Oil production in ANWR would likely produce equal or greater economic gains.

Higher CAFE standards also pose potential threats to highway safety. Because CAFE by definition mandates certain “average fuel economy” levels, the fuel economy of individual cars in any automaker’s fleet may fall above or below that level. Americans love sport utility vehicles (SUVs), which generally get lower fuel economy — often under 20 miles per gallon — and U.S. manufacturers have regained their strong position in the American marketplace by producing SUVs. For that reason, SUVs will continue to be a major presence on American roads.

To balance the low fuel efficiency ratings of SUVs, auto makers produce cars with high fuel efficiency — over 30 miles per gallon. The easiest way to do that is to make cars lighter and smaller. However, the drivers of these smaller cars are placed at increasing risk of serious injury or death if they are involved in an accident. The National Academy of Sciences found a decade ago that “downweighting” and downsizing vehicles led to as many as 2,600 deaths and 26,000 serious injuries in one year alone. And the NAS stated that “any increase in CAFE as currently structured could produce additional road casualties.”

Seizing the oil that lies under the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would pose no such threat to American drivers. Despite arguments to the contrary, oil production in ANWR would pose little threat to the habitat and animals of Alaska either. Of ANWR’s 19 million acres, less than 10 percent, or 1.5 million acres, would be affected by development. The rest of ANWR would be permanently closed to development of any kind.

Meanwhile, the caribou who make their home in ANWR show no signs of being adversely affected by development. Rather, they seem to be thriving. During operation of the Prudhoe Bay oil production facilities, numbers of a local caribou herd grew from 3,000 to more than 18,000 two decades into production. And most important, the people of Alaska overwhelmingly support development in ANWR, rejecting the spurious claims of extreme environmental activists who have never lived north of Manhattan.

Developing ANWR to make use of America’s own untapped oil resources is a far more preferable method of increasing domestic energy production and decreasing our dependence on foreign oil than is raising CAFE standards. Oil production in ANWR will create jobs, add to national economic output, and bolster U.S. energy supplies without threatening the natural habitat of Alaska — or threatening the safety of American drivers and the health of the U.S. automotive industry and its workers.

President Bush is committed to finding the right solutions to America’s energy challenges. On ANWR, he’s hit the mark.