Energy Bill Roadmap Emerges: Senate Needs to Stay on It

As the Senate launches another attempt to pass major energy legislation, the big question is whether it will implode again, or seize the opportunity to come together and help deliver a safer, less polluted, healthier, and more stable future for America.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different result. That's why the Senate needs to focus the dialogue on bipartisan, achievable goals. Fortunately, a roadmap is emerging to pull together a set of energy policies that could have real impact.

What remains to be seen is if the Senate can walk the walk and avoid the types of proposals that have derailed past efforts. If not this moment will be sidelined by the kind of gamesmanship the American people loathe, and has sandbagged previous energy debates. More specifically, if the fossil-fueled bomb throwers can resist putting forward legislation that either blows up the bill or ruins the planet the Senate could get a different result from past energy debates that ended in failure.

The Senate's goal, reflecting the values shared by both political parties and millions of Americans, should be to develop policies that deliver a cleaner, safer, renewable and sustainable energy future. What would a plan to accomplish that look like?

First, it would put a premium on clean energy and particularly on investing in efficiency, so we can do more with less 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. Several energy efficiency proposals are already on the table that would help capture these benefits, including Senator Coons, Collins, Reed and Shaheen's weatherization and efficiency bill (S.703), Senator Warner and Manchin's proposal to establish a competitive program to help states improve energy productivity (S. 893), and Senator Franken's American Energy Efficiency Act, which would save 37 quads of energy by 2030.

As my colleague describes here, there is also a tremendous opportunity to address our nation's rapidly changing energy systems to upgrade aging transmission, storage and other infrastructure. A smarter, safer, cleaner, modern energy system will benefit the economy and the health of every American. The Senate should focus on proposals like Senator Shaheen's Clean Distributed Energy Grid Integration Act (S.1201), Senator Hirono's Next Generation Electric Systems Act (S.1207), and Senator Wyden's Smart Grid Act (S.1232), which would create jobs and lay the grid foundation for the future.

Next, our country should invest more in creating jobs by cutting pollution. We need strong federal support for wind turbines, solar facilities, electric vehicles and other types of clean power, so we can produce more of our own safe and sustainable energy right here at home. The fact is clean energy solutions are here, and they are here to stay. Illustrating just how much renewables have grown current U.S. solar capacity has already surpassed EIA's AEO 2012 estimates for 2030.-- by 227%. Wind's success story is similarly impressive, and the potential is enormous. Just one quarter of our nation's off-shore energy potential would match our nation's entire existing fossil fuel-based electricity generating capacity. The efficiency of the U.S. auto fleet is up 25% in the last 10 years, electric vehicle sales more than quintupled between 2011 and 2014, and federal fuel efficiency standards are expected to save 12 billion barrels of oil over the life of vehicles made between 2012 and 2025. The Senate should embrace proposals that build on this foundation, including a strong Renewable Energy Standard like that being proposed by Senators Udall and Markey.

We also know there are more than 3.4 million Americans already who get up, suit up, roll up their sleeves and go to work each day constructing wind turbines, installing solar facilities, building the next generation of energy-efficient cars, homes and workplaces and otherwise helping to create a more sustainable future for us all.

Finally, divisive deal-breakers that threaten the fate of clean energy and would only move the country backwards should be kept off the table.

If the Senate wants to make meaningful progress, it must abandon efforts to dismantle decades of progress enacting safeguards and public oversight required to protect our air and our water, our wildlife and lands. And it shouldn't pursue new fossil fuel production that keeps us tethered to the dirty fuels that harm our health and ruin our climate.

Offshore drilling, for instance, is both immensely dangerous and contradicts climate science. It makes no sense to open our last pristine ocean--the Arctic--or the Eastern Seaboard to drilling that spews carbon pollution and risks disasters like the BP blowout that killed workers, put more than 130 million gallons of toxic crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico and threw tens of thousands of Americans out of work just five years ago this spring. Previous energy bills have been sunk by just these misguided proposals, and any forward-looking energy package must reject them up front.

Instead, the Senate, and Congress, should build a national energy bill with measures that move toward the shared goals of cleaner, safer, more sustainable energy, those that enjoy broad bipartisan support and those that will make a real difference. The roadmap is there. Congress just needs to stay on the path.