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Energy or Climate Legislation or Both?

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Congressional consideration of legislation to address our energy problems seems to be moving to the front burner again. With the reality of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a backdrop, the Senate Majority Leader is calling upon his Committee Chairs to offer up their best suggestions for an energy package that can garner enough bi-partisan support for a successful floor vote (see letter to eight Democratic committee chairmen and June 3 related article on E&ENews PM (sub req’d). The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee bill which passed last year may well be the base vehicle. The Climate legislation fashioned by Senators Kerry and Lieberman could be one possible amendment, if the Senate considers a bill June 8 E&E Daily (sub req’d).

Regardless of the outcome in this session, the Congress and the Administration needs to chart an understandable course for how we produce, use and conserve our Nation’s energy resources. Along the way, it’s clear that a price for carbon has to be established. Without that market signal, industry and the financial community won’t know the rules of the road and will continue to delay making the kind of technology and infrastructure investments needed to put us on a path to dramatically reduce our current energy use.

A good example would be tail pipe emission standards for the auto industry. The Obama Administration and the industry agreed to a historic milestone that will result in a significant increase in fuel efficiency and fewer CO2 emissions. This same kind of national approach needs to continue for model year 2017 and beyond, for the auto industry to continue down an innovative path to bring more fuel efficient vehicles to market. A price on carbon is also important to consumers both to make informed choices on how and when they use energy, not limited to electricity use but also with respect to the type of vehicles they purchase.

There is no single fuel source or technology silver bullet that will serve to meet our energy needs. In alphabetic order, we need all the biomass, coal, hydro, natural gas, nuclear, solar and wind power generation we can develop. We also need a massive energy efficiency effort to reduce the amount of energy we use as well as increasing our competitiveness.

We also desperately need an expanded and more efficient electric transmission system that will harness and deliver to market remotely located renewable energy resources, including wind and solar on federal lands in the West and off-shore. And regardless of where transmission is proposed to be built, we must adopt an “ownership neutral” transmission siting policy that selects the “best” route for high-voltage lines, irrespective of whether that route is on federal, state or private lands. The days of federal agencies objecting to transmission siting on the public domain at the expense of private land owners has to stop. Last year’s Senate energy bill included provisions that moved us toward developing an improved electric transmission system, however, these critical provisions have been effectively held hostage by the climate debate.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico isn’t just a wake up call for the oil industry. It should be viewed as a signal that it’s time for Congress to act. The spill is a concrete reminder of only one of many ways our energy system is in need of an overhaul. Without movement, even if it’s in the form of an incremental energy bill, our country will remain vulnerable to the consequences of an outdated energy strategy.

For those who say only a comprehensive energy and climate bill will suffice and to those who maintain that the market will answer the call to arms, I say this: The perfect is the clear enemy of the good. Unless we get something in place as a cornerstone for our energy future, this debate will remain simply a debate and nothing more. Environmental organizations and business must strike a new accord and do so now. To simply adhere to staked out positions will continue to stymie the movement toward energy policies that advance the goals of the environmental community and industry and more importantly the American people.

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