Harbert: Private Sector Ready to Do Its Part

Posted March 26, 2009 at 2:50pm

Our nation’s energy challenges are among the biggest and most significant that we face. The decisions and investments made by the Obama administration and this Congress will affect our security, global competitiveness and quality of life for decades to come.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy believes that the American spirit of innovation, coupled with sound and comprehensive energy policy, is the cornerstone of a new energy strategy. Our nation’s leaders must encourage renewable energy technologies, the expansion of nuclear power and more traditional sources of energy with equal urgency.

After the spring recess, Members of Congress will return to Washington, D.C., to find a variety of different energy proposals awaiting them. They will consider these proposals against the backdrop of an ailing economy and considerable anxiety among consumers and businesses. Instead of imposing burdensome mandates or cherry-picking favorite proposals, they should chart a new course that will maximize the use of all of America’s vast resources and create new American jobs. Their objectives should include:

• Providing Strict Oversight of Energy Funding in the Stimulus. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides more than $43 billion for energy, including a quintupling of energy funding at the Department of Energy, as well as more than $22 billion in energy-related tax credits. Given the huge sums involved, Congressional oversight will be particularly important to ensure this money is spent wisely to develop new technologies and energy sources and spur economic growth.

• Passing Laws to Fix Dysfunctional Regulatory Processes and Get Projects Moving. Needed energy projects are being strangled by red tape and, increasingly, “green tape,— too. To get a 21st-century energy infrastructure off the drawing board and under construction, Congress must take steps to streamline and speed up the permitting and appeals process, with enforceable deadlines and less opportunity for abuse. No matter the color of the tape, lengthy and unnecessary regulatory delays jeopardize the reliable energy that fuels our economy.

Congress should also remove the cloud of regulatory uncertainty by clarifying that greenhouse gas emissions will not be regulated under the Clean Air Act or the Endangered Species Act, which were not created for this purpose. America’s judges should not become the policymakers of last resort on energy policy.

• Maximizing America’s Abundant Energy Resources. In addition, delays imposed by the administration on the development of oil and natural gas are costly and at odds with the 76 percent of Americans that support using more of our own resources. These delays are shortchanging the public by restricting access to domestic energy sources that could enable us to be less dependent on foreign oil. Resources in the Outer Continental Shelf alone could fuel more than 80 million cars for 35 years and heat 60 million homes for 100 years, as well as provide billions of dollars in royalty revenue to states and the federal government. We encourage the administration to move quickly to open these areas to exploration and production.

• Allowing for Necessary Debate on Energy and Climate Change Proposals. Given the far-reaching impact that changes in energy and climate policy have on the economy — particularly with cap-and-trade proposals under consideration — legislation should not be written in a back room without the input of all Members. It is critical that American businesses — big and small — have a seat at the table. The state of the American economy makes it more important than ever that a full and transparent debate take place on the costs and benefits of legislation.

• Recognizing the Role of the Private Sector in Providing Solutions. While government plays a major role in shaping energy policy, it is ultimately the private sector that will create and invest in the solutions. By developing breakthrough technologies, a new era of innovation can truly enhance America’s energy security. Government should resist the temptation to pick winners and losers through regulation or open-ended subsidies and let the market step forward with solutions.

In addition, there are several options already on the table to secure America’s energy future, grow our economy and address global climate change. Congress is considering proposals to increase energy efficiency, expand the loan guarantee program, further develop carbon capture and sequestration technology and establish a clean energy bank to invest capital in clean energy projects. This broad array of policy enhancements — and many others — could enable the United States to increase its energy supply and reduce its carbon emissions.

To help Congress and the administration make sound choices, the Institute for 21st Century Energy has issued a Transition Plan for Securing America’s Energy Future. Available on the group’s Web site, this plan contains 88 recommendations that will increase and diversify energy supplies, improve energy efficiency, modernize and protect energy infrastructure and promote environmental stewardship. It is only this kind of comprehensive approach that will truly solve our energy challenges.

Karen Alderman Harbert is president and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.