Today the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Energy Board released a wide-ranging report entitled "America's Energy Resurgence: Sustaining Success, Confronting Challenges." The Energy Board’s members span a broad ideological spectrum, and the report aims to identify opportunities for bipartisan consensus at both federal and state levels.
Over the past decade, I have been a member of three BPC panels, including this one. It is important to note the ground rules for participation. First, I and other Board members participate as individuals, not as representatives of our respective institutions. Second, a Board member’s signing of the report does not necessarily mean that Board member agrees with each and every one of the report’s recommendations.
In my view, the report’s primary strength centers on its findings and recommendations regarding energy efficiency, renewable energy, technology development, and energy-related federal tax subsidies. The report concludes that energy efficiency – doing more with less – should be viewed and treated as an energy resource, just like natural gas, oil, coal, biomass, wind or nuclear power. Of all these competitors, efficiency has been and remains America’s best source of kilowatt-hours, therms and barrels; the report shows, for example, that productivity improvements in buildings, equipment and vehicles have contributed more to meeting America’s energy needs over the past four decades than all the other energy resources combined, while costing far less and reducing pollution..
The report is in part a blueprint for creating diverse and robust energy resource portfolios in which winners and losers emerge on the merits, with increasing domestic content and emphasis on continuously improving environmental performance. It demonstrates that the nation has made much more progress along these lines than many realize, although it also shuns complacency and identifies many opportunities to do better. And it pays particular attention to the vital but frequently neglected federal role in energy technology innovation.
It includes recommendations to state regulators and legislators regarding the nation’s most important clean energy partners, our regulated utilities. Utilities are our largest investors in energy efficiency resources and renewable power, but they can do much more, particularly if their regulators make sure that their financial health isn’t tied to growth in their sales of electricity and natural gas.
In other sections that will attract wide interest, the report:
- Recommends extending the renewable energy production tax credit (now set to expire in 2013) through the end of 2016, while calling for a phase-out of all federal tax subsidies for mature energy technologies (including longtime fossil fuel beneficiaries); and
- Expresses well-founded optimism about the future of renewable energy.
Happily, the BPC also draws particular attention to the bipartisan tradition of using performance-based standards to lock in energy savings for lighting, equipment and buildings. At the federal level, authority to establish and then upgrade minimum efficiency standards was created during the Reagan Administration for appliances and during the Ford Administration for motor vehicles. It remains a great idea today, whatever your party affiliation. And we need it – and our efficiency progress -- to continue.
The report stresses that the BPC Energy Board members endorse the overall report but do not necessarily agree with individual items. For me, and for NRDC, items in that category include:
- A recommendation that envisions opening up portions of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast to seismic exploration and offshore drilling;
- The Board’s failure to reach consensus on any proposals for capping or taxing greenhouse gas emissions, although such measures are long overdue; and
- An excessively bullish tone regarding essentially all domestic US energy resources, including those that contribute the largest emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
More detail on these can be found here.
The test of this and every BPC report is its capacity to broaden support for constructive action that improves the nation’s economic and environmental health. That should never be a partisan goal, but much work lies ahead with both federal and state decision-makers. In the meantime, we must spread the message that efficiency is still the most secure and cost-effective way to meet energy needs while improving environmental quality.