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Energy: Will Election Politcs Derail Policy?


A group of Senators is making a noble effort to craft a bipartisan comprehensive energy bill that includes both more drilling and extending tax breaks for renewable energy. The group started with five Republicans and five Democrats, and is now up to 10 Senators from each party.

But while their efforts are gaining momentum, it?? also clear that there is a still a vast partisan gulf on energy policy, one that threatens to stand in the way of progress. That gulf was very much in evidence on Sept 12, at an ostensibly bipartisan energy summit convened by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The morning panel at the summit included MIT professor John Deutch, Google?? energy and climate director Dan Reicher, energy guru Daniel Yurgin, and Shell president Marvin Odum. The exports largely agreed that solving America?? energy woes requires moving forward on a variety of fronts: improvements in energy efficiency, putting a price on carbon (to tip incentives towards efficiency and renewables and away from fossil fuel), while also increasing supplies of both renewable energy and oil and gas. Of that list, the cheapest and potentially the quickest to make a difference is energy efficiency. ??t?? not sexy, but it?? the cheapest resource we have,?said Reicher. Changing building codes, tightening appliance efficiency standards, and boosting the fuel economy of autos would make a huge difference. Reicher points out that Google has built a fleet of plug-in hybrids by adding extra battery packs to Toyota Priuses and Ford Escapes, which now get up to 90 mpg (50 mpg for the Escapes). If the country cuts oil use by 50% (ambitious but doable), it also does away with the need for imported oil.

But you wouldn’t know that from listening to the Republican leadership, which seems still fixated on a policy centered around drilling. “Conservation alone is clearly insufficient,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). “We still need more oil and gas.” The bipartisan proposal opens up some of the outer continental shelf to drilling. But it’s not nearly enough, McConnell added: “The proposals fall seriously short. We have the resources. Americans want us to use them.”

Or listen to Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), ranking Republican member of the Senate energy committee. Domenici said he’s dismayed by the number of people who want to cut oil use in order to tackle global warming. “We will have to use crude oil for a long time – and lots of it,” he said. The country therefore has a choice, he added. Drill more and use more of our domestic oil, or don’t drill and use more oil from other countries.

The better choice, as the panel of experts said, is to move much more aggressively on efficiency and renewables, thus reducing the need for oil—ours or theirs.

Of course, this isn’t just a disagreement about policy—it’s also politics. The Republicans have discovered that a call for more drilling is one of their most potent weapons in the upcoming election. But energy experts say that at a time when Congress hasn’t even been able to extend the existing modest tax credits for wind and solar energy because of this partisan fight over energy, it would unfortunate if the politics of energy get in the way of progress on policy

that solving America’s energy woes requires moving forward on a variety of fronts: improvements in energy efficiency, putting a price on carbon (to tip incentives towards efficiency and renewables and away from fossil fuel), while also increasing supplies of both renewable energy and oil and gas. Of that list, the cheapest and potentially the quickest to make a difference is energy efficiency. “It’s not sexy, but it’s the cheapest resource we have,” said Reicher. Changing building codes, tightening appliance efficiency standards, and boosting the fuel economy of autos would make a huge difference. Reicher points out that Google has built a fleet of plug-in hybrids by adding extra battery packs to Toyota Priuses and Ford Escapes, which now get up to 90 mpg (50 mpg for the Escapes). If the country cuts oil use by 50% (ambitious but doable), it also does away with the need for imported oil.

But you wouldn’t know that from listening to the Republican leadership, which seems still fixated on a policy centered around drilling. “Conservation alone is clearly insufficient,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). “We still need more oil and gas.” The bipartisan proposal opens up some of the outer continental shelf to drilling. But it’s not nearly enough, McConnell added: “The proposals fall seriously short. We have the resources. Americans want us to use them.”

Or listen to Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), ranking Republican member of the Senate energy committee. Domenici said he’s dismayed by the number of people who want to cut oil use in order to tackle global warming. “We will have to use crude oil for a long time – and lots of it,” he said. The country therefore has a choice, he added. Drill more and use more of our domestic oil, or don’t drill and use more oil from other countries.

The better choice, as the panel of experts said, is to move much more aggressively on efficiency and renewables, thus reducing the need for oil—ours or theirs.

Of course, this isn’t just a disagreement about policy—it’s also politics. The Republicans have discovered that a call for more drilling is one of their most potent weapons in the upcoming election. But energy experts say that at a time when Congress hasn’t even been able to extend the existing modest tax credits for wind and solar energy because of this partisan fight over energy, it would unfortunate if the politics of energy get in the way of progress on policy


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