Highlighting a change of focus reflected nationally, the majority of questions asked of U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall at a town hall meeting on Monday were not on the War on Terror or immigration but on the economy and alternative energy.
"I know that people are worried about this economy, they're worried about the energy crisis, they're worried about health care," Marshall said.
Marshall (D-8th District), speaking before a gathered crowd at Newborn City Hall, spent the majority of his hour-long visit discussing the future of energy needs in the nation. Marshal had only dim predictions for the price of gasoline coming down.
"We've got China and India and the rest of the developing world coming online," Marshall said, adding that he believed the days of $2 for a gallon of gasoline were over. "We ought not to be planning on these prices dropping."
Marshall said Americans were going to have to move toward greater oil conservation and a higher use of alternative fuels. He said he was in favor of the nation turning to nuclear energy and expanding its domestic oil refinery capacity to meet domestic energy needs.
While saying he was initially skeptical of corn-based ethanol, Marshall said he was now supportive of cellulose-based ethanol made from plant waste such as pine slash. Marshall predicted that a number of pine slash ethanol plants would be going up throughout rural Georgia in the coming years.
Citing a December article in "Scientific American," Marshall said solar energy might be able to meet the majority of domestic electricity needs with an infrastructure investment of $400 billion spread out over several decades.
"If this is real," that's another alternative," Marshall said of the proposed solar energy plan detailed by scientists at PrimeStar Solar.
According to the report in "Scientific American," a large enough switch from oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants to solar power plants could supply 69 percent of the nation's electricity and 35 percent of its total energy needs by 2050.
Some members of the audience expressed frustration with the actions taken by the federal government thus far to move away from oil and towards alternative energy sources.
"What is it going to take ... as a whole to a make a decision and just get it done?" attendee Dan Pearce asked.
Marshall responded that a lack of leadership in Washington was causing the inaction on the part of Congress.
"My God is Washington divided," Marshall said, adding it was difficult for leaders in either political party to come together to work on solutions to the energy crisis.
Responding to a question on his fellow Georgia Rep. John Linder's (R-7th District) FairTax plan, Marshall said it was his understanding that a move to replace all federal income taxes with a much higher sales tax would result in an overall increase of taxes paid by those individuals earning between $25,000 and $150,000 annually.
"I'm still willing to be persuaded," said Marshall of his position on the FairTax.
Marshall also spoke of his recent trip to Baghdad, from which he returned on Monday. In his 14 trips to Iraq, Marshall said he had noticed a marked improvement in military security compared to previous trips. He praised the progress made by the Iraqi Army and disparaged the lack of progress made by Iraq's political leadership.
"I was not happy with what I heard from our Sunni and Shi'a contacts," Marshall said.
Marshall predicted that the American people would soon run out of patience with the political establishment if the Sunnis, Shi'a and Kurds could not come to an adequate political reconciliation on their own.
If the Iraqi political establishment continued to remain at an impasse, Marshall said the Iraqi Army might be motivated to usurp control.