Energy & Environment

Critical energy issues for discussion with Secretary Salazar

Today, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will appear before a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee, which comes directly on the heels of his testimony yesterday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Both hearings provide a good opportunity for the Secretary and committee members to discuss some critical issues about energy policy that are getting more and more attention as the situation in the Middle East remains uncertain and gasoline prices remain volatile.   

Here are a few of the critical issues that I hope are discussed today, and I’m sure I’m not alone:

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We need a comprehensive energy plan

Unrest in the Middle East is causing gas prices to skyrocket, with oil prices surpassing $100 per barrel.  This price spike threatens any economic recovery in our own country and underscores our nation’s need for a common sense, comprehensive energy plan that moves us to sustained energy independence.

Our country is too dependent on foreign oil.  In the short-term, we must take steps to ensure our nation is not held hostage to the prices set by the Middle East.  That means we need to look for new sources of oil wherever we can find it, including Alaska, the Outer Continental Shelf and from shale in the west.  With the need to create more jobs in our country, development in the former moratoria areas of the Outer Continental Shelf and other restricted areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Rockies would directly create 160,000 new jobs by 2030, according to ICF International.

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We need to drill here, we need to drill now

While Congressional leaders in Washington are diligently working to keep our government open, thousands across Northern Africa and the Middle East are fighting to close their governments down. 

Dictators are being thrown from their palaces by the masses. What started in Tunisia has spread to Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and now we can add Libya to the list. I certainly hope the demand for democracy spreads to the streets of Iran. February 2011 may be remembered in history as a time of rebirth, but I am concerned that the unrest we are witnessing could imperil our own national security. 

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The limits of doubt-mongering

Since Congress re-convened, it seems especially fashionable among the new leadership to voice doubt about the scientific evidence that heat-trapping gases are dangerously warming the planet. And at least one congressman says he will hold hearings into climate science, giving a platform both to mainstream scientists who have spent their professional lives studying the issue, and the relative minority of Ph.D.s in a variety of disciplines who claim climate change is nothing to worry about.

That seems reasonable enough at first blush. But rhetoric heard on the campaign trail in the fall and on Capitol Hill since then suggests that the aim might not be to have a serious conversation about the risks we face from unabated warming, or the opportunities for the U.S. to develop the technology necessary to solve the problem.

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Rethinking America's energy security

Last month, amid fears the Suez Canal might be closed by the political turmoil in Egypt, the price of oil briefly topped $100 per barrel. As a result of ongoing clashes in Bahrain and Libya, oil prices are again approaching the century mark.  

The revolutions in North Africa, along with other evidence of political instability across the Middle East, should remind us that America’s lack of a coherent domestic energy policy is putting our economy and our national security at risk.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, perhaps best summarized these risks when he recently stated, “The current political unrest in Egypt and its unstable neighbors strongly reinforces America’s need to reduce our dependence on turbulent regions of the word and produce more energy at home.” 

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Take a page from the military: Risk management could reboot climate change debate

Once a serious issue becomes politicized and turns into a virtual weapon in the culture wars, it can seem impossible to move beyond partisan bickering and identify a reasonable and responsible course of action. But as those whose job is protecting national security have shown us time and again, it is important to chart a path forward --despite political battles-- when a situation is dangerous and the future is in doubt.

Defending the nation routinely requires making weighty decisions despite uncertainty, incomplete information, and limited resources. To do its job in these difficult situations, the military routinely uses an approach known as risk management. Risk management provides a systematic way to consider threats and vulnerabilities, “knowns and unknowns”, and to take steps to minimize risk.

Risk management is a more formal version of the analyses families do every day, when buying insurance, deciding where to live, or investing 401(k) money.  And risk management can offer an apolitical way forward-- perhaps the best way forward --on the complicated and highly politicized issue of climate change.  That’s the conclusion we’ve drawn from a year of closed-door meetings with national security, intelligence, and defense officials around the world as we researched the findings in a new report, Degrees of Risk: Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security.

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Job growth hindered by EPA regulations

If you’re unemployed, there’s no such thing as a Republican job or a Democratic job. You just desperately need a paycheck, and you expect elected officials of both parties to put aside their differences and work together to help you get it.

President Obama appeared to show on January 18 that he recognizes this, when he announced he has ordered a review to identify federal regulations that can be eliminated because they hinder economic growth and job creation.

While defending some regulations, the president wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that, “[W]e are also making it our mission to root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb.”

Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hasn’t gotten the message, even though its efforts to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases meet the three standards that President Obama set for bad regulations.

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It's time to keep families safe from toxic harm

Americans are concerned about the safety of toxic chemicals contained in everyday products – and they should be. Many of the products we bring into our homes – cleaning supplies, fabrics, furniture, carpets, and hundreds of others – contain chemicals, including some that have been linked to cancer, learning and developmental problems, and reproductive disorders.
 
While we all want to protect our families from these dangers, we have little ability to do so. That’s because the federal law designed to safeguard us has made it almost impossible. Now Congress has a long overdue opportunity to fix the broken Toxic Substances Control Act.

The landscape of chemical regulation is changing dramatically. Over the last several years, 18 states have adopted controls on toxic chemicals, nearly all with strong bi-partisan support, and more than 30 states will consider additional protections this year. Even the chemical industry says it supports strengthening changes, though it has offered little by way of specifics.  

It doesn’t require an advanced degree in chemistry to recognize what is wrong with this law.

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Defining 'clean' is the energy challenge

In an effort to show some semblance of an energy and environmental policy, the Obama administration has recently begun advocating clean energy standards (CES). Clearly no sane person would be in favor of “dirty” energy standards, but there are many problems with the impossible goal the administration has set out to reach. 

First among them: the administration itself cannot agree on what it means by “clean energy.”

The remarks the president made in his State of the Union address to the nation last week are a case in point. President Obama posed the challenge that “by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.” 

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'Race to Green' good for business

In a speech at Pennsylvania State University Thursday, President Obama proposed a suite of incentives intended to cut energy consumption from existing U.S. commercial buildings by 20 percent by 2020. This proposal is exactly what’s needed to jump-start major energy and carbon reduction initiatives and to create jobs and efficiencies that enhance our global competitiveness.

The proposal includes tax credits, loan guarantees, worker training initiatives and a competitive grant program, dubbed "Race to Green." The cost is expected to be offset elsewhere when the President’s budget is delivered later this month, but incentives such as loan guarantees do not add to government spending, and the cost of training workers is much lower than the cost of paying them unemployment benefits.

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