Using shared principles to guide our global and national energy policy
As we head toward the pivotal COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, our success implementing energy commitments we make abroad will depend very much on the success of our policymaking efforts here at home.
Despite the polarization and gridlock that characterizes much of our legislative system, we know that passing bipartisan law in the U.S. Congress is not a pipe dream. The Energy Act of 2020, passed last December under the leadership of then-Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and then-Ranking Member (now Chairman) Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is a clear example that we can achieve bipartisan success.
As a non-partisan organization that does not endorse any specific policy approaches, OurEnergyPolicy (OEP) believes that U.S. energy policy is stronger and more effective when it engages policymakers with multiple points of view. OEP facilitates civil, substantive dialogues among energy experts with different perspectives to identify areas of consensus, points of differentiation, and innovative solutions. These multiple perspectives are essential to avoid blindspots and reach bipartisan agreements to meet our serious energy-related challenges.
Building from a place of shared values can make it significantly easier to smooth differences and overcome hurdles as we seek to find areas of consensus. To that end, OurEnergyPolicy spearheaded an initiative earlier this year to define a set of principles to guide sound energy policy. Our goal was to identify principles that could serve as a lodestar or point of reference to guide policymakers as they consider options and try to work through differences with their colleagues.
OEP convened a public webinar panel discussion opened by Sen. Murkowski and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), followed by an online discussion, and a roundtable with 11 energy leaders with varying policy perspectives representing industry, government, non-profit organizations, and academia. From these discussions, we reached a list of 7 principles to guide sound energy policy: Reliability, Affordability, Decarbonization, Equity and Inclusion, Integrated Policy, Respecting Sound Science, and Technology Neutral. These could be considered to be fundamental principles that stakeholders and the public expect from our energy systems and that effective energy policy should lead us toward. We invite policymakers on all levels of government to keep these principles in mind as they seek to create effective energy policy solutions.
How can policymakers use these principles? To be sure, we run into challenges when these principles come into conflict. As to our first three principles, some Republicans are often concerned that decarbonization will jeopardize reliability of the electric grid and affordability of energy services. Some Democrats are often concerned that reliability and affordability are excuses to not decarbonize as aggressively as necessary to avert the worst consequences of climate change. Yet energy leaders from across the political spectrum in our discussions expressed the importance of achieving all three, which of course, requires creativity and compromise.
The Energy Policy Act of 2020 appropriations bill seems to have struck such a balance. The bill’s high-level summary explains how it prioritizes decarbonization by investing in technologies that are necessary to deliver cleaner energy, while prioritizing affordability with the understanding that energy innovation is key to keeping energy affordable as demand rises. The Energy Act also prioritizes our principle #7—a technology neutral approach—saying this will lead to the development of a wide range of low- and zero-emissions energy options.
As our federal, state, and local officials strive to craft an energy policy for the future that will sustain our planet and quality of life, we believe that these principles can keep these essential efforts directionally on track and overcome rough patches of disagreement. We have the challenges of climate change, network reliability, grid security, and more to address, and our energy policy will be more effective and have broader support when we seek input from a range of scientists and policy experts as we seek consensus. We hope these principles will be a helpful guide in this effort.
Bill Squadron has been an executive, government official, and attorney in the energy, telecommunications, sports, and media fields for more than 25 years, and is currently President of OurEnergyPolicy.