Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Perspectives on Energy

The Hill today is running a special report on "Energy & the Environment," featuring submissions from a bipartisan and bicameral selection of legislators with very different views on the subject.

- Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), the Chairman of the House Science Committee (and this writer's representative, I'm generally proud to say) weighs in with "Reduce energy consumption in transportation sector - now," in which he argues - correctly, in my view - that "if we are serious about ending our oil addiction, we must address the unbridled consumption of gasoline within our transportation sector, which is the single largest and fastest growing source of U.S. oil usage. The way to do that is to raise the standard known as corporate average fuel economy (CAFE)."

Boehlert notes his support for the initiatives recently announced by the president to fund research and development of non-petroleum-based technologies, calling the efforts "
wise investment of taxpayer funds." But, he continues, "widespread practical use of any of these new technologies is years or even decades away, and at this point none appears to be a panacea to our oil addiction. A modest increase in CAFE standards, though, would, in the relative near future, significantly reduce the amount of oil imported from abroad and thereby reduce the amount of money that makes its way into the hands of unstable or even openly hostile regimes."

Boehlert trumpets his bill H.R. 3762, which would raise CAFE standards from today's 25 mpg (average) to 33 mpg (average) by 2015. As he notes, Canada recently reached agreement with automakers "
that will effectively boost the fuel economy of the vehicles sold across our northern border by 25 percent over the next five years. If it can be done in Canada, it can surely be done here in the states." Boehlert concludes "There simply is no credible argument against raising CAFE standards. It would not force people into small, unsafe vehicles. It would not force consumers to give up the SUVs and minivans they so cherish. And it would not undermine the economic viability of the domestic auto industry. What it would do, though, is significantly cut our oil consumption while we move forward with the long-term development of new fuel options under the President’s Advanced Energy Initiative. I don’t see how any of us could argue against that."

- Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) argues in "Dependency on foreign oil makes U.S. vulnerable" that to reduce dependence on foreign energy we must a) "
increase domestic production of oil and natural gas by allowing exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and on Outer Continental Shelf lands where huge reserves exist," b) "take steps now to encourage the conservation and efficient use of oil, gas and other energy sources," and c) "support research and development of advanced technologies such as nuclear energy, clean coal and hydrogen power that will provide our long-term answers."

While I disagree strongly with opening ANWR to drilling (among other reasons, it just makes absolutely no logistical sense, given the time it would take to extract what little oil is there), I certainly support Sessions' second and third options. As part of the second, he writes that he's co-introduced legislation to "
require the U.S. government to find ways to reduce our consumption by 2.5 million barrels per day by 2016, require that half of all cars manufactured in the United States be alternative-fuel vehicles and provide tax credits and loan guarantees to auto manufactures to retool their factories to build more efficient vehicles." Certainly would be a good start.

- Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) submits "Boldly rethinking our energy future," in which he asks the fundamental question: "
Energy independence is the talk of the town lately, but is Washington actually willing to take the bold steps — and perhaps risks — to get the job done?" He pushes for the establishment of an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), which would "have the ability to draw people and ideas from all of the research and technology-development programs in the Department of Energy, the nation’s universities and private industry." "Innovation breeds innovation," Gordon writes, which is certainly true. The idea isn't a bad one, to be sure.

- Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) rounds out the selections with "Need to break oil addiction is old news to Democrats." The only overtly partisan letter of the four, Honda criticizes the president's budget framework for the most part, but does offer some suggestions in the final two paragraphs. He urges funding for research into nanotechnology, setting agency standards for fuel efficiency and "
publicize technologies that have been developed in government labs that might have applications in alternative energy generation and provide targeted funding for the further development of research findings."

I recognize that this is an election year, and there probably is no prospect (how sad is that?) for any actual progress on energy reform for the forseeable future. But just in reading over these selections, it's clear that there is at least some common ground that can be worked from. With any luck at all, combined with a little time, some hard work, and a minimum of political posturing (sounds impossible, but hey anything can happen) we may yet be able to make some eventual headway. Let's get at it.


At 10:59 AM, Blogger The Cynical Liberal said...

The proposal is only to bring the average MPG up to 33mpg in 9 years?

While I applaud that they're doing anything at all, there are more and more vehicles that are already meeting and exceeding that... I think that the committee should get a little more ambitious than that... Let's see them suggest that by 2015 they knock it up to 40mpg, or 45...

At 11:30 AM, Blogger JBD said...

Agreed, for sure - it could (given current technology) and should be raised even higher than 33 mpg. Boehlert's formulation does include trucks and SUVs though, which currently drag down the average quite a bit since the regulations on them are much, much less stringent than for cars.

Even 33 has been impossible in recent years given the opposition from Detroit - if we can make that happen it would be a huge deal. Baby steps, in some sense, yes.


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