Good start on the way to a coherent energy policy
There’s been a sighting this spring of that rarest of birds in Washington: a national energy bill. The bill by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has fluttered around a bit, will probably appear at a Senate committee hearing and then is expected to go the way of all good energy bills: into extinction.
Which is too bad. At the very least, the bill deserves better than to go quietly into that good night. It deserves a fuller national discussion and eventual passage in some form.
Given the challenges posed by global energy supplies and growing demand and the threat posed by climate change, the nation desperately needs a coherent energy strategy, one that eases us from fossil fuels to renewable and alternate forms of energy. That’s not easy — it will take time and effort — but it eventually will have to get done in order to build a more sustainable economy.
Bingaman’s bill promotes a clean energy standard that would require utilities to wean themselves off coal and generate an increasing amount of power from renewable sources such as wind and solar. It also encourages the use of other carbon-neutral sources such as natural gas, nuclear and even so-called clean coal technology.
The increasing clean electricity mandate would require 54 percent of electricity in 2025 come from such sources and 84 percent in 2035. The Energy Information Administration estimates that U.S. energy-related carbon emissions would decline to 80 percent of the 2005 level by 2035.
Much of this is in line with what many states have already begun doing, although it may be somewhat more aggressive in some areas. The bill may need to be tweaked in that regard, and lawmakers need to ensure that all utilities are treated alike. Other tweaks may be needed, such as making sure that the standard doesn’t focus on just traditional sources such as natural gas and nuclear but really encourages the development of renewable sources.
Bingaman, who is retiring after this term, doesn’t hold out much hope for his bill, but he said earlier this spring that he wanted to at least start a discussion. He’s right to do so.
Pushing the nation forward on cleaner energy is a critical issue and has received relatively short shrift from this and previous administrations. The Pew Environment Group argues that nations with clear renewable energy goals and policies attract the most finance and investment and reap the greatest benefits of clean energy innovation and manufacturing. It also argues that state renewable energy standards have been an effective tool and that states are generally ahead of meeting their renewable energy goals.
That’s a sign of success that could be compounded on a national basis with a national strategy.
Bingaman’s bill would be a good step in that direction. Rather than letting it join other extinct national strategies, lawmakers should give his bill renewed life by moving it forward.
Reprinted from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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