Nation Must Develop Better Clean Technology

Posted September 19, 2003 at 10:34am

We are in the midst of a perfect political climate for bold change in energy policy. Yet at a time when our country is losing jobs by the hundreds of thousands, global warming is thawing Alaskan permafrost, and our country is becoming increasingly dependent on the most volatile area of the world for its energy supplies, this Congress has essentially punted when it comes to addressing the real challenges we face.

Why is it that, according to a poll conducted by opinion research firm Evans-McDonough, 81 percent of Iowa voters and 77 percent of Michigan voters favor a bold, clean energy jobs program over tax cuts? Because Americans recognize our innate ability to lead the world in innovation and they know we need the jobs that innovative clean energy technologies will inevitably bring.

Why does 74 percent of the American public recognize that global warming is a problem? Because they see signs of climate change around them, with receding glaciers at Glacier National Park and other disturbing weather trends. The public also recognizes the vast majority of climate scientists have concluded that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are contributing to the trend.

Why do Americans want to become energy independent? Because they recognize that our reliance on foreign oil is jeopardizing our security and warping our foreign policy, entangling us in some of the most volatile areas of the world.

The bills now in conference committee completely fail to address these questions.

This is not to say that the energy bills now being considered in conference are entirely without merit. Both bills take steps to promote net metering and standardize interconnection requirements to make it easier for citizens to connect into the grid and become energy independent. Both bills provide limited tax incentives promoting some energy efficiency technologies and both provide tax incentives for renewable energy production.

Yet these provisions themselves are inadequate, as states are allowed to opt out of net metering requirements, and the tax incentives for traditional energy production far outweigh the incentives for clean energy systems. The energy legislation now being considered in conference is more noteworthy for what it lacks than what it contains. It lacks bold initiative.

In spite of this apparent lost opportunity, some members of the Democratic Caucus and I are championing a “New Apollo Energy Project,” intended to harness the genius of America’s “can do” attitude to design, invent and deploy the new clean energy technologies that befit American values of entrepreneurialism, creativity and can-do attitude. President John F. Kennedy called on America to put a man on the moon, and we met that challenge. Today, we are faced with different challenges, but we should follow the same optimistic spirit.

The New Apollo Energy Project will marshal the resources of the federal government to provide a vision of how to accomplish these goals: addressing the threat of global warming; expanding our economy and creating jobs; and breaking our addiction to Middle East oil and thereby improving our homeland and national security.

The New Apollo Energy Project will channel federal dollars into research that will make the United States a hotbed for new, clean energy technologies. Over 10 years, this new energy economy can create three million jobs. Japan, Denmark and Canada are already far ahead of the United States in parts of this technological race, a race we cannot afford to lose and forgo victory’s economic advantages.

The New Apollo Energy Project will also help advance rural development and diversify the agriculture sector by supporting such products as bioenergy, wind, solar, biomass and geothermal. In addition, our plan can provide tax incentives for companies manufacturing these new technologies to locate in areas of the country in greatest need.

We need, of course, to plan to increase efficiencies in the transportation sector. We ought to be able to fashion a proposal that will improve auto efficiency while giving confidence that our domestic manufacturers will not face a disadvantage compared to foreign competitors.

While the climate for change in our energy policy has brewed a robust demand for leadership among the general public, Congress remains, for the time being, inexplicably insulated from this call for action. Americans overwhelmingly want a program that enables our country to lead in development of new energy technologies that create jobs at home, they want action on global warming, and they want an energy policy that frees us of our dependence on foreign oil. Now, we need a political climate change in Congress to meet these challenges.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) is a member of the House Resources Committee.