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Headline: US energy proposal pushes toward center
Byline: Brad Knickerbocker Staff writer of The Christian Science
The effort to craft a comprehensive national energy strategy got a
significant nudge this week. After two year's work, the nonpartisan
National Commission on Energy Policy, a panel funded by several
foundations, issued what's likely to be an influential report
addressing all aspects of energy policy: supply, national security,
environmental impact, and diplomacy.
Recommendations are laced with incentives as well as regulations that
in total are unlikely to completely please anyone - smokestack
apologist or solar-powered activist. Still, the commission's
middle-of-the-road approach could stimulate movement on the national
energy policy, which has stalled over things such as global warming
drilling for oil in Alaska.
Among the major recommendations:
* "Significantly strengthening" vehicle fuel-economy standards while
providing $3 billion in consumer and manufacturing incentives to
and buy hybrid and advanced diesel cars and trucks.
* Applying diplomatic pressure to encourage nations with
oil reserves to allow foreign investment while also easing US
sanctions that currently prevent such investment.
* Beginning in 2010, institute a mandatory "cap and trade" program on
greenhouse-gas emissions that would reduce such emissions 2.4 percent
year. This rate of reduction is 50 percent more than the Bush
administration proposes in its voluntary program.
* Build an Alaska natural gas pipeline.
* Invest $4 billion over the next 10 years in advanced coal
* Provide $2 billion over the next 10 years to research and develop
or two advanced nuclear power plants.
* Increase federal support for renewable energy technology by $360
million a year.
It's a plan designed to be both ambitious in scope and politically
realistic. Seated around the discussion table were advocates for
business, labor, consumers, and the environment.
The commission - prompted by 9/ 11, the California energy crisis, and
rising global energy expenditures - was formed early in 2002 by
independent foundations to address growing concerns about shared
resources. Among the 16 commission members are former EPA
William Reilly, United Steel Workers president Leo Gerard, Sharon
Nelson of the Consumers Union, Ford Motor Company vice president
Zimmerman, former CIA chief James Woolsey, and Ralph Cavanaugh of the
Natural Resources Defense Council. The contrast with Vice President
Dick Cheney's closed-door task force, generally thought to be
industry-heavy, was obvious.
While the overall energy package would cost some $36 billion over 10
years, it is designed to be revenue-neutral in that the money would
raised by selling emission allowances for greenhouse gases.
On many of the most important recommendations, there is a "prime the
pump" approach that assumes that technology development - spurred by
incentives and deadlines - will take off in a way that impels more
efficiency and less reliance on foreign energy sources, as well as
eventual reductions in climate-changing emissions.
"We almost always overestimate what technology can do in the short
but underestimate what it can do in the long run," says commission
co-chair John Holdren, an engineer and physicist who teaches
environmental policy at Harvard.
As expected, there are criticisims. The National Association of
Manufacturers calls the recommendation for mandatory caps on
gases "a significant threat to US industrial growth." The group
the Bush administration's voluntary approach to such reductions.
"The last thing our economy needs right now is a new government
that will raise energy prices even higher," says NAM vice president
But the context for this week's energy policy report includes
activity and public pressure that moves well beyond what the White
House and much of the business community want in terms of government
Under the bipartisan "Climate Stewardship Act," authored by Sens.
McCain (R) of Arizona and Joseph Lieberman (D) of Connecticut, all
major sectors of the economy would be required to return greenhouse-
pollution limits to year 2000 levels by 2010.
California is in a court fight with auto manufacturers, which filed
suit this week seeking to halt the state's new program curbing
emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Seven other
states are moving in that direction as well. Eight states have filed
"public nuisance" lawsuit against the country's five largest power
companies for the 652 million tons of carbon dioxide (the principal
greenhouse gas) emitted annually.
One of the major criticisms of the Kyoto Treaty on global warming has
been that it does not include developing countries such as China and
India, whose burgeoning economies could account for increasing
of climate-changing gases. Members of the National Commission on
Policy take account of that possibility by recommending a review in
2015 of US actions to reduce emissions in light of what such
Having spent considerable time with officials and scientists in China
and India, commission cochair John Holdren predicts those countries
will be working to reduce their emissions as well, particularly as
technology to do so becomes more developed and available. "I think in
2015 they'll all be on board," says Dr. Holdren.
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Headline: Middle Path on Energy
One of President Bush's first-term goals was a new national energy
policy. But it bogged down over such controversies as drilling for
in Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Vice President Cheney's
industry-heavy task force, and a gasoline additive.
While Washington wrangled, top US foundations funded the bipartisan
National Commission on Energy Policy. Staffed by a diverse group of
energy stakeholders, the private panel last week issued balanced
recommendations that take on "cherished myths from both right and
left," as put by John Rowe, commission cochair and CEO of utility
The group recognized, for instance, a "misplaced focus on energy
independence." The US will depend on fossil fuels for decades. On the
supply side, it suggested encouraging oil production in nations with
underdeveloped reserves, and building an Alaska natural gas pipeline.
On the demand side, it called for strengthening federal fuel economy
standards, and incentives for making and buying hybrids and advanced
But it also emphasized cleaner and alternative energy - investment in
advanced coal and nuclear technology, for example, and in renewable
The price for this $36 billion, 10-year program could be paid for by
tradable permits from mandatory reductions on greenhouse gas
The cost of those cutbacks would be capped - a compromise with
The commission left ANWR alone and couldn't agree on specific fuel
efficiency standards. But its middle-of-the-road approach is a
for an urgently needed energy policy that the new Congress must