U.S. House Energy Package--in Need of a Course Correction

After months of hearings and weeks of negotiations, a comprehensive energy package was introduced in the U.S. House this week and while it was it was quickly advanced to full committee consideration on a bipartisan vote, it does nothing to move our nation forward on important issues like cutting carbon pollution to protect public health and future generations.

Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources introduce its 350-page comprehensive energy package late last night, which includes some good, some bad and some ugly as well, but more details on that next week.

An initial read of the nearly 100-page bill that the Subcommittee for Energy and Power sent along to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday shows it puts the thumb on the scales of fossil fuels through faster pipeline approvals, hardwiring outdated fossil fuel generation, and establishing a plan for integrated oil production -- all while ignoring progress being made both domestically and internationally toward cutting carbon emissions and advancing clean energy resources in an affordable and reliable way.

For renewable energy, this bill strangely expands the definition of renewable energy in a way that says waste heat from burning natural gas counts as a renewable resource in meeting the federal government's renewable energy goal that was established in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

And the best we can say for the energy efficiency provisions is that while it does no harm, it also does nothing to take advantage of the cleanest, most cost-effective way to meet our energy needs and cut pollution from fossil fuel-fired electricity generation: being smarter in how we use that energy so we don't need as much of it.

On the better news side, the version introduced yesterday didn't include many harmful provisions that were discussed in the committee hearings, like:

  • a provision that ignores the adverse impact of cross-border pipeline proposals on the environment, forcing policy makers to rubber stamp long term high carbon infrastructure, undermining our ability to address climate change and putting land, waters, and communities at risk;
  • a provision that at best is a waste of resource for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and its regulated entities, and more likely requires FERC to cement certain baseload power requirements that ultimately decrease transmission grid flexibility; or
  • a provision that would repeal the scheduled phase out of fossil fuels in federal buildings which is one area where the federal government can show leadership, leverage energy efficiency and cut pollution.

It's a positive sign that the bill introduced and moved forward in the House this week omits the most egregious provisions originally under discussion but the question remains--will Republicans be able to refrain from loading this back up with toxic measures, as we've seen them do time and time again?

However, first the House needs to address the many problems to the current bill which we detailed in a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including:

  • Sec. 1102 which undermines the existing process for resolving environmental and grid reliability conflicts by instead allowing the Department of Energy to waive environmental laws in those situations; and
  • Title III on Energy Diplomacy which seems to be encouraging energy transfer and trade between countries without the proper consideration of what the energy future should look like from an environmental perspective. Promoting energy security and economic interests at the expense of environmental considerations (which it barely addresses) is highly problematic.

While this U.S. House energy package needs significant modifications to the energy package, more importantly it must consider how to better align with the progress of clean energy across the nation. Renewable energy is experiencing explosive progress. Solar is surging as is wind. This is not only happening in America, but the world is now deploying more renewable energy in the production of electricity than it is in fossil fuels. Smart policies will continue to accelerate that deployment and tap into our clean energy resources, creating jobs and reducing carbon pollution.

Also, the House package should put a premium on investing in efficiency so we can cut needless energy waste. Dollar for dollar, investing in energy efficiency is the cheapest and fastest way to cut carbon pollution, even as it helps to make our workers more productive, our companies more efficient, and our products more competitive around the world.

This House package is a missed opportunity for the kind of policies our nation needs. And it's also a missed opportunity to reflect the values shared by millions of Americans who want policies that deliver a cleaner, safer, renewable and sustainable energy future. While several flawed provisions in new legislation will decidedly put the country on the wrong path, there is still time to for a course correction to develop a comprehensive energy policy that embraces the promise of renewable resources and efficiency to meet our energy needs while cutting pollution.