Energy & Environment

America's safe, clean, and nuclear future (Rep. Joe Pitts)

There is one thing that people across the ideological spectrum can agree on when it comes to the issue of energy—the United States needs to produce far more clean energy from a source that does not rely on the whims of tyrants in far off parts of the world.

Fortunately, there is a technology out there that produces clean, emission free energy without the need for raw materials imported from unstable countries. Our green energy future is a nuclear future.

I believe that we need to provide for a regulatory process that will encourage an increase in the production of this clean, alternative energy.

Nuclear energy is a viable, clean alternative that can help strengthen America’s energy infrastructure now. But in order to make that happen, we need regulatory reform in order to speed up the process of approving new nuclear reactors, while ensuring the highest safety standards are observed. Our regulatory structure should be encouraging innovation, not stifling it. Nuclear power can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy and reduce the emissions that come from burning fossil fuels.


Restore American cities with renewable energy tax credits (Rep. Brian Higgins)

Our cities form the backbone of our economy and the foundation of our international strength and competitiveness.  Yet older, historically-manufacturing-based cities across America are suffering.  Not only should we be reinvesting in and rehabilitating these cities, but we should give them the tools they need to leverage their greatest assets – a ready infrastructure and a workforce trained in manufacturing – into attracting investment in the 21st century version of the steel mill – the manufacture of green energy equipment such as solar panels and windmills.

America is falling far behind Europe and Asia in attracting alternative energy manufacturing. This is in large part because other countries have adopted more aggressive policies to encourage their own domestic demand for these energy technologies.  We need to adopt smarter incentives too, to create the demand that will encourage manufacturers to locate in the U.S.  But we should also be telling these manufacturers that when you do locate in America, you should put your factory in one of our cities that most need the investment and are also best equipped to get the job done.


Time to let a little sunshine into the NRC’s decision-making process (Rep. Ed Markey)

As the government agency that oversees nuclear power plants, the disposal of nuclear waste and other critical nuclear safety issues, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would make its decisions in public, like Congress or most other regulatory agencies.

However, the five-person Commission makes almost all of its most important decisions through a secretive process called “notation voting,” where Commissioners privately circulate different versions of written decisions along with their “yes” or “no” vote.

This practice greatly hinders the ability of the public to hear open debate on critical issues before the Commission, like nuclear power plant safety or the safety of radioactive materials used in medical procedures.

As the great Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Now is the time to throw open the curtains and let a little sunshine into the Commission’s decision-making process.

As the body charged with protecting both people and the environment from unnecessary exposure to radiation, the stakes of the NRC’s decisions are too high to be made behind closed doors.

Last week, I sent a letter to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, calling for the Commission to open its decision-making process to public examination and I eagerly await his reply.

There is absolutely no reason why the NRC’s deliberations should be shrouded in secrecy. As an independent regulatory agency operating in a democracy, the Commission has an obligation to conduct its business in public to the fullest extent possible.

In 2005, the House approved my amendment to the Energy Policy Act to encourage the NRC to either hold more public meetings or for the results of non-public meetings to be made public, consistent with the requirements of the Sunshine Act, which sets public transparency standards for federal agencies. However, that amendment was dropped from the final version of the bill, an unfortunate step that sent the wrong signal to the NRC about the need for greater openness in its proceedings.

Like every other member of Congress and most elected officials across the nation, I cast all of my votes in public so my constituents can see where I stand on the key issues of our time. And with so much power over potentially dangerous nuclear facilities, it is time the Nuclear Regulatory Commission did the same.

After all, a little sunshine goes a long way.

Rep. Ed Markey is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee.


Obama, Senate leaders must advance climate change legislation

Just two months are left before more than 180 countries will gather at the United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen to try to reach agreement on a new climate treaty. The key issues under negotiation include emissions reduction commitments by industrialized countries, meaningful actions by major developing countries to limit their emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, and financial and technology assistance to help developing countries cut their own emissions and to adapt to the mounting impacts of climate change. Bold steps are needed by President Obama and other world leaders to get a successful outcome in Copenhagen, and time is running short. A lot hinges on the commitments the United States is willing to make. There is still a chance for the U.S. Senate to act on climate and energy legislation this year – but the Senate needs to pick up the pace. President Obama and Senate leaders must work together to advance legislation in the next two months, so that the world sees that Congress fully supports the president in addressing the climate change problem.

The bill passed by the U.S. House in June – the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act – includes short-term emissions reduction targets that are less than what other industrialized nations are willing to commit to, but at least would get U.S. emissions on a downward path and set the stage for much deeper reductions by mid-century. The ACES bill also includes some of the funding that’s needed; most significantly, it allots five percent of the total pool of emissions allowances to help developing countries preserve their tropical forests. The revenue from the sale of these allowances would be used to help these countries set up forest protection programs, and to compensate the farmers, ranchers and others who currently earn a living from activities that require tree clearing. Since tropical deforestation accounts for about one-fifth of global carbon emissions, it’s crucial that the final bill include this funding. Meanwhile, the bill that was introduced in the Senate at the end of September – the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act – referenced the value of tropical forest protection, but lacked an allowance allocation system and so hasn’t yet committed the resources to back that up.

Similarly, the House bill commits revenue from one percent of the emission allowances to help developing countries adapt to global warming and the revenue from another one percent to help the countries reduce their own emissions by shifting to clean technology. The Senate bill is silent on both those pieces for now, as well. Most of the key developing countries have expressed willingness to take significant action to limit their emissions -- if the financial and technology assistance pledged by the Bush administration and other industrialized countries two years ago at the Bali climate talks is forthcoming. This will not only ensure that these countries are able to do their part in meeting the global environmental objectives of a Copenhagen agreement, but will also increase sales (and employment) for the hundreds of U.S. companies that produce clean technologies.

To demonstrate to the world that the United States is fully in this game, the Senate needs to move forward on energy and climate legislation before Copenhagen. This means that several Senate committees, including the Environment and Public Works Committee, the Finance Committee, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will need to finish their pieces of the bill. And then Senate Majority Leader Reid will need to draw on the work of these committees, as well as the bill reported out by the Energy Committee in June, to craft a final package that he can bring to the floor. Finally, senators who have been wavering because they’re concerned about whether other countries will commit to real emissions reductions will need to understand that it’s a two-way street. The rest of the world is waiting for the Senate to act. At the United Nations climate summit in September, President Obama said, “Our generation's response to this challenge will be judged by history.” There is still time to make sure that the Copenhagen climate summit meets this test -- but only if President Obama and other world leaders use the next two months wisely and truly lead.


New Report: End mountaintop removal to benefit the economy

This week the Sierra Club and the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment released a new report by Synapse Energy Economics that reaffirmed what many coalfield residents have known for years: mountaintop removal coal mining hurts Appalachia's economy more than it helps it.

The United States can have affordable electricity without mountaintop removal, the report shows, because multiple factors contribute to the cost of electricity, and the price of coal is just one component.

According to the report, and other recent reports on mountaintop removal:


New stimulus is on the way (Rep. Michele Bachmann)

Late last week we got word from Speaker Pelosi that more stimulus funding is being considered to get the economy back on track. Seems that the $787 billion ($1.1 trillion with interest) that you ponied up earlier this year just isn't getting the job done. But, honestly, we shouldn’t be surprised by this response – not when tax-and-spend-and-borrow liberals are in charge of everything from the White House to the Capitol.

More government spending and borrowing to boost our economy is like trying to dig ourselves out of a hole in the sand. When all is said and done, not only have we made no progress, but we’re further from our objective then when we first started. And, with a greater debt for our kids to boot.


New Boxer-Kerry bill endangers taxpayers and the economy

When most in Washington are focusing on the health care debate, we would be foolish to forget about the other looming nightmare for taxpayers across America: cap-and-trade, more appropriately termed the National Energy Tax. The latest example of this is the Boxer-Kerry bill entitled the "Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act,” which if passed would condemn taxpayers to poverty and the American economy to oblivion.

In fact, it is easy to make the argument that cap-and-trade legislation would exert more control over a bigger sector of our economy than even the most radical proposals for national health care. That’s because energy, especially carbon-based energy, is a factor in the production or provision of virtually every good or service in America. From family-run restaurants, which rely on a fleet of delivery vehicles to the airlines we use to visit relatives, from the clothing factory that uses gas-fired electricity to the coal mine on which a local town depends for employment, cap-and-trade means higher prices, fewer jobs, and lower rates of return for millions of middle class investors and retirees.


Kerry-Boxer will cost farmers, consumers

The "Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act," introduced by Sens. Kerry and Boxer, will cost American farmers and consumers without providing any corresponding benefits.
According to the Department of Energy, energy costs could grow by $1,870 per household. Combined with higher costs for food because of the bill, the additional yearly hit on families could total about $2,300 per household. Said another way, the cap and trade law could impose costs of up to $200 billion a year on American taxpayers, according to the Treasury Department. That's the equivalent of a 15 percent hike in personal income taxes.


Climate change - A national security challenge

“You never have 100% certainty. If you wait till you have that, you’ll fail.”

 The evidence is unmistakable. We have hard choices before us. As the impact of irreversible climate change and the need for cheap energy increases, you’ll see more resource conflicts, more epidemics, and more deaths.

In short, life as we know it - for millions of people, including us - will become nastier, more brutish, and perhaps shorter. As an Iraq War veteran, I’ve dealt with the consequences of our energy needs in ways few have.


New ideas in sustainability (Rep. David Wu)

These days, everyone is talking about the importance of sustainability.  From large corporations to individual families, we are all more conscious of how our actions affect the world around us.  Nowhere is this green ethic embodied more wholly than in my home state of Oregon.  This week I introduced two clean energy bills that are rooted in Oregon’s sustainable culture and beneficial to all Americans.

Nearly 30 years ago, Oregon created a tax credit to encourage energy efficient, sustainable business practices.  It has been wildly successful. State officials report that, thanks to the tax credit, commercial buildings save the amount of electricity used by 730,000 homes every year.  Imagine the potential savings if that program were replicated across America.  The first piece of legislation I introduced this week would do just that.

The Building Energy Tax Credit (BETC), H.R. 3659, fills a gaping hole in the federal tax code by encouraging energy efficiency improvements in commercial buildings.  Our tax laws already address renewable energy projects, alternative transportation, and residential improvements.  However, there is nothing on the books today that provides commercial developers with a strong tax incentive to develop sustainable buildings.