Group Aims to Take Politics Out of Energy Policy

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC,
June 18, 2003 (ENS) - Another independent group waded into the U.S. energy debate today, adding another report to a growing pile of recommendations on how the nation should reduce its dependence on oil and chart a new energy future. But the Energy Future Coalition is adamant that its blueprint to revamp the nation's energy policy contains something that many others do not - broad political support.

The coalition says it has brought together longtime adversaries to take energy policymaking in a new direction and that the product of this cooperation is a report that bridges the differences between business, labor and environmental groups and identifies energy policy options that are politically achievable.

"You might be surprised that we agree about anything," said steering committee member Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation and a former U.S. Senator. "But we stand together because this is not a partisan issue - it is about our future and the kind of world we live in and leave for our children."

Wirth's fellow steering committee members, for example, include C. Boyden Gray, former Counsel to President George H.W. Bush and John Podesta, former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton.

The coalition, which consists of more than 150 individuals from a broad array of fields, was formed in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and was established with support from several private foundations, including the Turner Foundation and the Better World Fund. woodpower

The coalition calls for more investment into turning biomass - such as wood residues - into energy. (Photo courtesy National Renewable Energy Lab)
The coalition's recommendations center on an "iron triangle" of issues, Wirth explained, and are designed to break through the "enormous inertia" that plagues efforts to revamp the U.S. energy system.

These three great energy challenges, Wirth said, are "global oil dependence, the risk of climate change, and the need for modern energy to enable economic development."

"We cannot continue on our current course," said Gray. "Despite the efforts of seven presidents to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, our economy and our living standards are still hostage to forces beyond our control."

"The enemy here is not the current administration, or the Congress," Gray said. "But there is something about this system that needs changing and we are trying to provide cover for doing things to bring about that change."

The Energy Future Coalition's report, which is the first of several the organization says it will produce, recommends incentives to build advanced fuel efficient vehicles in the United States, developing home-grown alternatives to oil, and modernizing the nation's electric power network to make it more reliable and secure.

The U.S. transportation sector must be addressed, the coalition says, because it accounts for some two thirds of U.S. oil consumption, is 95 percent dependent on oil, and accounts for one third of U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

As about 60 percent of transportation-related oil consumption is for passenger cars and light trucks, the coalition believes it makes sense to target this particular sector. It recommends tax incentives for consumers and automakers to embrace more fuel efficient hybrid vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles as well as the expansion of existing research and development program on fuel cells and hydrogen.

The coalition believes petroleum substitutes from biomass must be a key part of the nation's energy future. It calls for the Department of Defense to hold a competition of novel technologies, with the objective of building five to 10 demonstration plants to prove the viability of converting various forms of biomass to fuels and other products at commercial scale.

The report recommends that the nation increase and broaden federal funding for bioenergy research and development from the current annual total of some $150 million to $500 million.

And the United States should shift agricultural export subsidies to support new markets for bio-based products - a move that Gray believes could help developing countries by removing subsidies that help favor U.S. agricultural goods over those from the rest of the world, without harming U.S. farmers.

Developing clean sources of hydrogen is critical, the coalition says, and it calls for the nation to look toward coal as one potential source. The report recommends that the United States intensify research and development on ways to use coal without damaging the climate and should expand efforts to demonstrate technologies for capturing CO2 from power plants and disposing of it underground.

The report calls for upgrading of the nation's power grid, explained Energy Future Coalition Executive Director Reid Detchon, because it is "built on 1950s technology." This creaking technology costs the U.S. economy some $120 billion a year in power outages and interruptions, Detchon said, but could be transformed into a digitally controlled, stable and secure transmission network for about half that total. coal

The nation's 250 year supply of coal must be part of its energy future, the coalition says. (Photo courtesy of the University of Akron)
Such an upgrade, added Podesta, would help fuel the growth of renewable energy sources that could easily be plugged into a more modern power grid.

The report calls for federal cofunding to expand innovative state and utility energy efficiency programs and expand the federal ENERGY STAR programs.

The coalition says that the nation's policymakers must not forget about the impacts of U.S. energy choices on the rest of the world and should support dissemination of clean energy technologies in developing countries.

It suggests efforts to attract private capital for energy projects in developing countries through tax-advantaged Global Development Bonds to securitize investments in such projects.

The potential costs of the recommendations in the report - some $60 billion to $70 billion - could be offset within three years, the coalition says, thanks to economic benefits of some $22 billion a year. Following the report's policies would reduce U.S. oil consumption by three million barrels per day and reduce CO2 emissions by 10 percent over 25 years, according to the coalition.

Wirth stressed that the recommendations in the report are "strategic, not comprehensive." The report does not, for example, suggest specific measures to encourage development of wind or solar power, nor does it call for specific targets for CO2 reductions.

But the members are confident their blueprint reflects a "different approach," Podesta added, because it identifies options that "can attract broad support and move us toward our common goals."

"At a time when our economy is struggling to create jobs, the right kind of energy program with the right kind of investments can produce real job growth and at the same time reduce the emissions that are heating up the planet," said Podesta.

"Is not that the legacy we want to leave for our children and grandchildren?"

To read the coalition's report, see www.energyfuturecoalition.org