There is a strong impetus in Congress and across America to reshape our energy landscape. Prospects for passing a comprehensive energy bill are good, if Congress can avoid overreaching. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has been working diligently on a bipartisan bill since the beginning of the 111th Congress and held the first of several planned markups at the end of March.
We started with issues where there’s broad consensus — energy efficiency, research and development and work force training — allowing time for more work and negotiations on the complex challenges confronting us. At our next markup — I anticipate at least three more — the committee will consider the pros and cons of a renewable electricity standard for utilities, solutions for our nation’s bottlenecked transmission system and enhanced protection for our electric grid from cyber attacks.
We must increase our use of renewable energy, but different regions of the country have different levels of renewable energy available. In the Southeast, for example, possibilities for wind, solar, geothermal and tidal energy are limited, and there are substantial doubts about the cumulative environmental effects of biomass. I can’t justify enacting a national renewable electricity standard that parts of our country simply cannot meet.
Nuclear energy — which currently provides 20 percent of the nation’s electricity — will be key to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change. That’s why I’m troubled by the recent decision to abandon consideration of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Dropping Yucca Mountain for political reasons, without identifying an alternative, creates a huge gap in our nuclear policy and sends a negative signal to potential investors that further hampers expansion of the industry.
Future markups will address improvements to building efficiency, market transparency and energy development issues — including renewable energy production on public lands, the future of coal and, I hope, expanded revenue sharing for coastal states that authorize oil and natural gas leasing off their shores.
The committee is also working on ways to improve financing of clean-energy projects. The existing loan guarantee program run by the Department of Energy isn’t working, and we need to create a more efficient process so companies with promising ideas can advance their projects quickly.
While we take steps to support clean-energy development, we cannot overlook the fact that our country will depend on oil and natural gas for decades to come. Given the precarious state of the economy and advancements in environmentally safe drilling techniques, we should encourage greater energy exploration onshore and offshore. There are some people who feel sufficiently demonizing oil will result in a new green future. Unfortunately, the adjective green doesn’t have magical powers, and discouraging domestic production simply drives up reliance on foreign oil imports.
Our focus must remain on legislation that will result in the cleanest possible energy at the lowest possible cost, with as much of that energy as possible produced here at home by American workers. This will keep prices low, create jobs and benefit our economy and security.
Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), has said he wants to report out a bill by Memorial Day. We’re working actively with him, but we need to take the time to be sure we get this right, and I think work on the energy bill may continue into the summer.
The energy bills being considered in the House combine energy with setting a mandatory cap on carbon. Bingaman and I agree that lumping these two together, especially with an approach that punts all the really tough implementation standards to the administration, makes passage of an energy bill far less likely. Republicans on the Energy Committee are working in good faith to craft a truly bipartisan energy bill. In return, I expect the Democratic leadership to make a similar commitment to maintain that bill as standalone legislation. I’m not interested in providing air cover for a process that results in a good energy bill being hijacked on the floor as a vehicle for climate legislation.
The Senate energy bill will substantially reduce energy usage and carbon dioxide emissions through increased efficiency and conservation, and increases in the development of renewable energy. As Congress moves forward with a separate debate about the benefits and consequences of establishing a cap-and-trade system, it’s important to remember that American competitiveness and the strength of our economy hang in the balance.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.