By Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) - 11/19/13 10:23 PM EST
The Energy Department announced last week that the United States produced more oil than it imported in October, the first time that’s happened in nearly two decades. And our country is on track to surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of oil and gas within the next decade. Domestic natural gas is creating well-paying manufacturing jobs and helping to reduce our country’s carbon footprint. America is bolstering its energy security and becoming less dependent on unfriendly regimes.
Renewables are on a winning streak as well. Solar City hit it big with investors recently when it issued the first bonds backed by rooftop solar power, which could raise more than $50 million. That’s on top of a big investment by Goldman Sachs and other finance heavyweights. Meanwhile, wind farm installations picked up in recent months, with 7,500 megawatts of new projects signed up in the third quarter of this year.
China, Germany, India and other nations are looking for the next scientific breakthrough that will transform the global energy race. America needs to keep up or risk being knocked out. That’s one reason why I strongly support the reauthorization of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which is working on projects that can really revolutionize our energy sector, everything from the next generation of batteries and cars to cutting-edge energy storage technologies.
But years of congressional gridlock over the budget have left our country unable to adapt to the modern energy reality.
Our spending priorities and tax code are essentially fossilized relics of years past.
I know from experience that Democrats and Republicans can agree on common-sense, bipartisan energy priorities.
As chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, I’ve partnered with ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and other members to find bipartisan agreement for legislation that will spur renewable hydropower, which makes up 60 percent of our country’s renewable energy. And we’ve introduced legislation with Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to tackle the really intractable problem of finding a permanent home for our country’s radioactive nuclear waste.
The first step toward crafting a modern energy policy is to agree on where our country wants to go. Democrats and Republicans certainly have differences when it comes to energy, but nearly everyone can agree on some basic goals.
In my view, our energy spending and tax system should accomplish four goals: First, the security of our energy supply, and resilience to disruptions at home or abroad, should be at the forefront of our policy. Second, energy policy should make the United States more competitive in the global economy, especially domestic manufacturing. Third, the federal government should target spending to encourage innovation and reward major breakthroughs in energy technology.
Finally, every dollar the government spends on energy needs to move us closer to a lower-carbon economy.
While the budget conference is winning headlines today, the reality is that a huge part of American energy policy is made through the tax code, and comprehensive tax reform will ultimately be the best place to tackle many of these issues.
My hope is Democrats and Republicans can find a way to put our differences aside when it comes to the federal budget and reach a deal that puts our nation on a sound fiscal path and sets the stage for pro-growth tax reform. If Congress is serious about creating jobs and tackling our budget problems, there is no better place to start.
To get there, it is clear our tax code needs to end the on-again, off-again roller coaster of support for renewable energy. Private investors are rightfully wary of jumping into the ring when the federal incentives need to be renewed every year or two.
Congress should look at replacing the separate incentives for each energy technology with fewer, tech-neutral incentives that level the playing field for renewable and conventional fuels. These incentives should take into account domestic energy security and reducing our carbon footprint, but let the market decide which technologies ultimately succeed.
Having technologies compete for tax incentives based on who has the best technology rather than who has the best lobbyist will help ensure our energy sector stays competitive in the global economy.
There’s a lot more to do to bring our energy priorities in line with the future. Technology to use energy more efficiently, store renewable energy and reduce the environmental impacts of producing and using fossil fuels all have to be part of the mix.
Now it is time for Congress to stop sparring and get back to work on policies to make sure the United States continues to be the world leader in energy technology.
Wyden is the senior senator from Oregon, serving since 1996. He is chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He sits on the Budget and the Finance committees, the Special Committee on Aging and the Select Committee on Intelligence. He is a Democratic appointee to the budget conference.