It’s Independence Day, America’s birthday, and the nation looks great for its 243 years.

My stepson has proudly served two deployments in the past eight years with the U.S. Air Force. He is part of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s strong military tradition, a region that contributed significantly to an Allied victory in World War II. Thousands of area residents served in uniform during the conflict, while countless others worked to produce the equipment, materials and ammunitions required of a global war.

Many left their jobs to fight for the freedom we celebrate this week. Some of those jobs were filled by women, in some cases in roles to which they had been previously denied access. Thus began a decades-long process that would alter the American workforce.

Like the thousands of our sons and daughters who went before my stepson, and those to follow, we owe our sincere gratitude. We have an opportunity to help them keep our country safe.

Energy independence is a vital piece of the national security puzzle. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects dramatic improvement in America’s balance of trade in liquids, equivalent to an additional 2.5 million to 3.0 million barrels per day of output compared with 2018. The time has come to go all-in on this opportunity.

We have already disrupted energy markets globally. Today we have the opportunity to do a better job than has ever been done before, by utilizing the best technologies for public safety, environmental integrity and energy efficiency.

The alternative? We import and never fully utilize our rich natural resources. Think again. More and more people are now realizing the opportunity for a wide range of family-sustaining jobs ahead. We are dependent upon countries with unstable or even volatile governments. But at what cost?

Are we talking about lining the banks of the Monongahela and Ohio rivers with refineries? Of course not. We have too much invested in our river ecosystems. After years of hard work and bushels of money, our rivers are cleaner than they have been in my lifetime. The Mon, for example, is a highly functioning commercial and recreational waterway.

We are talking about strategically developing a resilient economy, on our terms, with a sustainable manufacturing base, better schools, revitalized communities and a reinvigorated population. And we’ll be laying the groundwork for a green energy economy, eventually right here. The use of renewables is expected to grow as well, particularly to generate electricity. Nearly all of the growth will be in solar.

Not all environmentalists have accepted this yet, but natural gas remains the big enabler for increased solar power.

Are you worried about climate change and global warming? When we ship our resources for use in other countries, where we know emissions and safety control standards are not up to par, we are directly impacting these serious issues. We can and will create centers of research and development that will keep American ingenuity at the forefront of the global energy picture for generations to come.

I know that Fayette, Greene and Washington counties will develop and grow their built environment. I also know they will not allow it to occur at the expense of their natural environment.

The balance of the built and natural environments has been debated since the age of steel began in the late 19th century. For decades, steel drove the American economy to great heights, led the way in national and global security, and development of the emerging new technologies of the day. The U.S. economy today is being driven to great heights, now by natural gas.

This time, industry is much more knowledgeable and conscientious of safety and the natural environment than Andrew Carnegie’s boys were back in the day. The level of investment that American energy and manufacturing companies make in safety training, processes and environmental compliance is unparalleled.

Meeting these challenges is paramount to our communities, and the companies we host. No one wins when something goes wrong. Our future can, and will, be built responsibly.

Jamie Protin is founder and principal of The Protin Group in Belle Vernon.

To submit business-related columns, email Rick Shrum at rshrum@observer-reporter.com.

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