U.S. Senate Energy Vision is Still a Giant Question Mark

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee spent much of the week putting the finishing touches on its bipartisan energy bill. After months of work and a week of debate what emerged from the Senate committee is still a giant question mark.

On the one hand, many senators on the committee worked to produce a compromise bill that if improved could form the foundation for a step for our nation's energy policy. On the other hand, Senator Murkowski signaled her priority by introducing a separate bill that would turn our publically owned resources over to the oil industry at the risk of our coastal economies, communities and climate.

When Congress returns in September it needs to take a step back and refocus on policies that set the United States on a stronger path to a more sustainable and clean energy future. Congress has a tremendous opportunity to address our nation's rapidly changing energy systems and upgrade aging transmission, storage, and other infrastructure through the promise of energy efficiency and renewable resources to meet our energy needs while cutting pollution.

The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) developed does include some forward-thinking provisions, including the permanent extension of the Land and Water Conservation Fund which helps to create and maintain our naitonal parks, refuges and forests; and new programs to support grid storage, advanced electric transmission grid technologies as well as long supported policies to promote energy efficiency. And during the bill markup process one of the most troubling provisions, which would have exempted hydropower facilities from regulations that have worked for a century, was removed from the bill. However, the committee also added several amendments with problematic provisions to subsidize research, expand production and increase distribution of fossil fuels while undermining the environmental review process.

Troubling pieces persist

This energy bill has a some troubling provisions, highlighted early in the week in a letter to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that remain intact--in particular one that undermines the existing process for resolving environmental and grid reliability conflicts by providing complete protection from all laws with the potential to have dramatic consequences on protections to public health; as well as the very contentious provision that would override consensus agreements between manufacturers, gas utilities and efficiency advocates on new gas furnace energy efficiency standards, substantially delaying improvements to their minimum efficiency levels that have not been substantially changed in over 25 years and that would save consumers billions on their energy bills.

Need more clean energy

But more importantly, this bill lacks the necessary prioritization of clean energy to help us meet our obligation to reduce carbon pollution limits and pass on a cleaner, healthier, safer planet to future generation. National energy policies should spur investment in our energy infrastructure to provide all Americans with affordable, reliable and cleaner energy, and cut carbon pollution to address the impacts of climate change many communities are already experiencing. Using energy smarter, promoting clean energy, and improving energy delivery are all necessary to improving health and reducing pollution.