I recently embarked on a 600 mile bus tour along the magnificent Gulf Coast of Texas, stopping to meet with many hundreds of constituents, over 75 elected officials - both Republican and Democratic - and scores of local leaders in 16 communities.
This region is blessed with great treasures, including abundant energy sources, a pristine environment, and sites commemorating our state's rich heritage. Over the course of my journey, I was privileged to see many of these places and meet the Texans who help make this part of our state so unique and prosperous.
In Wadsworth, I witnessed firsthand how South Texas is confronting the energy crisis by leading the American nuclear renaissance. At the South Texas Project Electric Generating Station, I met with plant executives and local officials and toured the facility, which is an industry leader in safety, reliability, and efficiency.
he plant's two reactors produce 2,700 megawatts of electricity annually, which can power more than one million homes and businesses in South Central Texas. STP has been awarded the nuclear industry's highest honor, the "Best of the Best" trophy. This facility is in the process of doubling its capacity with two new reactors, which will be the first built in the U.S. in three decades.
Another clean, renewable fuel source that can be harnessed is wind energy. I support the Lone Star Wind Alliance - a consortium of state agencies, universities, and energy companies - and its plans to build a wind turbine testing lab in the coastal city of Ingleside. As renewable forms of energy, such as nuclear and wind power, are increasingly folded into our energy portfolio, domestic oil production must, and will, remain a critical component in the short term. Texas leads the nation in oil refineries - 16 of the 26 refineries in our state are situated on or near the Gulf Coast.
On the bus tour, I was privileged to help break ground at Valero's $2.4 billion refinery expansion at Port Arthur. This project is expected to boost the facility's overall capacity to 415,000 barrels per day and will make it one of the nation's largest refineries.
Simultaneously, the Gulf Coast is an energy powerhouse and a tourism hotspot. This region provides indisputable evidence that these industries can coexist - and flourish.
In 2006, Gulf Coast tourism yielded more than $15 billion in spending and generated over $1 billion in state and local tax receipts. Almost 50 million Americans annually flock to the region to see some of the cleanest and most scenic beaches in the nation and other regional highlights.
At the San Jacinto Battleground and monument, I was honored to stand on the very ground where Texans fought and won our state's freedom. In Rockport, I helped celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Texas Maritime Museum, which preserves and exhibits Texas' rich marine history dating back to the Karankawa Indians.
At the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, I saw the important work being done to share the wonders of Gulf aquatic life with visitors and to promote ecological education in Texas. Finally, on High Island, I toured the Houston Audubon Society Birding site, which is part of an internationally known system of natural sanctuaries.
I will continue to work in the U.S. Senate for these 16, and the other 238 counties of Texas, to ensure they have the opportunity to grow and prosper.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is a U.S. Senator for the state of Texas. Readers may contact her via telephone at (210) 340-2885.