I live just outside of Washington DC, but every summer I drive with my husband and three boys to Chillicothe, Ohio, a rural, working-class town in the southeastern part of the state, to visit my in-laws.  Making the long drive is an important part of starting vacation and getting some perspective, especially leaving beltway politics behind.

Yet some realities cannot be escaped.  Filling up the gas tank in our minivan costs more than $60.  And it certainly takes more than one refill to get us to Ohio and back.   

Like most moms, I oversee our family’s budget, and while I wouldn’t skip our summer trip to see grandparents – that’s too important for our family – I feel it when energy costs rise. I’m very aware, for instance, when gas prices increase the cost of our summer road trip by a couple hundred dollars, just as I feel the pinch when our home heating bill and grocery costs climb.  It means I have less at the end of the month to put away into our college savings accounts or to use for extra babysitting so my husband and I can take a break.

Energy policy may not officially be on the list of women’s top concerns, but if they are worried about the economy, making ends meet, and job creation, then energy certainly is a top priority.  And women should be aware of what their representatives in Washington are doing – and not doing – to make energy more affordable. 

Women have likely heard President Obama talk about how he has invested taxpayer dollars in helping clean energy companies.  Like most Americans I care about our environment and want to see such renewable sources take off; but we need toface the reality that wind, solar, and geothermal energy make up just a tiny portion of our total energy supply (about 1.5 percent in 2011) and will for a long time.

Not surprisingly, when I’m in southeastern Ohio I think a lot about coal.  According to the Institute for Energy Research, coal constitutes a whopping 42 percent of electricity generation in the U.S. We have so much coal, in fact, that the 48 lower states alone could provide for America’s current coal consumption for 485 years. A whopping 20.4 percent of U.S. energy is produced by coal.

But the Environmental Protection Agency’s stiff coal regulations are resulting in a record number of generators shutting down this year. The Daily Caller reports 75 coal-fired generators (8.5 percent of coal-fired capacity) will be retired in the near future.  That means that we will have less supply of energy than we should have, and the energy prices will be needlessly high.

Of course, we all want a healthy environment for ourselves and our children.  But the good news is that new technologies have made coal a much cleaner, more environmentally-friendly energy source, and there are better, less invasiveways of developing and transporting oil and other fuels. We need to balance our concern for the environment with our very real need for energy—and economy growth today. Because the reality is we need energy solutions that work for us today

Too often lawmakers in Washington seem to be picking winners and losers in the energy industry, discouraging the development of natural resources like coal that keep towns like Chillicothe operating and keep energy costs low for families like mine.

Tallying up our spending and thinking about why things are more expensive today than they were last year, and the year before that, brings me back to that gas station just outside of Chillicothe, Ohio. The President and other elected officials don’t seem to understand what affordable energy means to families and business. Perhaps they need to take a road trip outside the beltway for some perspective.  I know it always helps me.

Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.