Reimagining America’s energy policy

America has an opportunity to reimagine how we think about energy. The possibilities of abundance are very different from the trappings of scarcity, and the facts underpinning the nation’s bright energy outlook to 2020 and beyond are still struggling to make themselves known.

We have enough natural gas buried underground in the United States to meet our current levels of consumption for more than 90 years, according to the Energy Information Administration. Our technically recoverable reserves of oil are large enough to offset a century’s worth of imports from OPEC, and exciting frontiers in geothermal energy, oil shale, methane hydrates and other sources are held back only by technology.

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Meanwhile, as domestic energy production booms, the American economy is becoming more efficient and less intensive in its use of energy. The Paris-based International Energy Agency recently highlighted the United States for its improvement in this area. We face the real prospect of tapping our enormous energy potential even as we provide better protection for the environment.

Sound policy can help make all this happen. But foolish policy is certain to derail us.

Too often, energy is seen as a necessary evil. While every form of energy has its consequences, affordable and abundant energy is a fundamentally positive force. It’s what makes modern life and our high standard of living possible.

I released a document this week, titled Energy 20/20: A Vision for America’s Energy, to begin a conversation about where energy and natural-resource policies should go over the next few years. It is intended as a blueprint for discussion. The work of renewing these policies requires cooperation between the president and a new Congress. We should strive to do this together, starting today, through discrete bills and targeted oversight.

I believe there’s a consensus that it’s in our national interest to make energy abundant, affordable, clean, diverse and secure. Our challenge is to align federal policy with that consensus. Energy 20/20 includes ideas to do so under seven headings: producing more, consuming less, clean-energy technology, energy delivery infrastructure, effective government, environmental responsibility and “an energy policy that pays for itself.” 

As we rethink our nation’s energy policies, it is important to face questions about the risks of energy and resource development, including questions about climate change. We need to discuss these questions openly and find common ground on prudent steps to take in the face of uncertainty. What is certain is that we can best address environmental challenges if we are prosperous and secure.

Abundant energy is possible, and there are already many signs of it becoming a reality as technological breakthroughs lower the cost of producing previously uneconomic resources. Affordable energy is vital to our economic well-being, and a prudent balancing of energy production with proper standards for environmental regulation is more pressing than ever. Our nation is too often hamstrung by burdensome regulations, delayed permits and overzealous litigation. This can render projects uneconomic by attrition and prevent timely, efficient and urgently needed investments.

Nevertheless, the future is bright. New technologies are making clean energy — those sources with less environmental impact than their most likely alternatives — increasingly competitive and enabling energy efficiency to continue to improve. Throughout the economy, diversification of energy and natural-resource supplies is apparent. As alternative fuels like electricity and natural gas take hold in the transportation sector, we can expect this trend to continue. And the need for more secure supplies is beginning to influence consensus about additional steps needed to renew our energy and natural-resource policies.

Modern federal energy and natural-resource policies will add to these trends, in part by removing roadblocks erected by the outdated approaches they can replace. And we must continue to fund and consider increasing funding for the scientific research critical to continued progress. Only basic and rigorous research will produce the dramatic breakthroughs we need to reach a future in which clean energy and energy independence are more than just slogans. 

If we make the right choices today and accomplish by 2020 the goals I’ve proposed, we can secure a future in which energy and natural resources are affordable and abundant from secure and diverse sources; ensure the air and water are cleaner in our own country and around the world; and enable Americans to enjoy a healthy economy and preserve their ability to live and “to pursue happiness.”

Murkowski is Alaska’s senior senator and the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations subcommittee.