Task Force Calls for National Policy on Energy in the U.S.

The United States must adopt a long-term energy policy that includes renewable energy, according to an independent task force.

NEW YORK, New York, US, 2001-04-17 <SolarAccess.com> “There could be more Californias in America’s future unless the U.S. government adopts a long-term, comprehensive energy policy now,” says the report that was co-sponsored by Rice University in Houston and the Council on Foreign Relations, and signed by 51 experts in energy matters, including Joseph Kennedy and Daniel Yergin. The U.S. energy industry is capital-intensive and energy woes could worsen before they get better, and “Americans should therefore brace themselves for more California-style electricity problems and seasonal shortfalls of natural gas and heating fuels, as well as occasional spikes in regional gasoline prices,” it warns. The situation is not a sign that the world is running out of energy resources, but is due to chronic under-investment and soaring energy use. The experts believe that President George Bush has an opportunity to educate the American public about the reality and to build a broad base of popular support for the hard policy choices ahead. The U.S. faces the consequences of not having had an energy policy over the last several decades, but the task force warns that “there are no overnight solutions to the energy supply and infrastructure bottlenecks facing the nation and the world.” Both Democratic and Republican administrations have allowed energy policy to drift despite its importance to the economy and to U.S. security and, in particular, energy policy has underplayed energy efficiency and demand management measures for two decades. A spike in oil prices has preceded every American recession since the late 1940s but, despite the obvious pattern, successive governments did nothing to craft a coherent and visionary national energy policy, it claims. Now, “agonizing policy tradeoffs” between legitimate and competing interests must determine if Americans “are willing to compromise their hunger for cheap energy to achieve their increasing demand for cleaner energy and a cleaner environment.” The world is precariously close to using all its available global oil production capacity, and an accident or disruption in production could put the world on the brink of “the worst international oil crisis in three decades.” The situation in oil markets is compounded by shortages of other forms of readily available, clean energy in the U.S., including natural gas and electricity in certain localities. “U.S. energy independence is not attainable and policy must therefore focus on increasing the number of energy suppliers, the kinds of energy consumed, and the efficiency with which energy is used,” says one of the recommendations. “The effort should include renewable and non-conventional forms of energy, as well as conventional fuels, while recognizing that even a doubling of renewable fuel supplies by 2020 could result in renewables having a lower share of the market than today.” The report, ‘Strategic Energy Policy: Challenges for the 21st Century,’ says the U.S. must adopt new conservation measures such as improved vehicle fuel efficiency if it is to ease its energy supply woes. The proposal by Bush to increase domestic energy supplies is not enough to tackle a squeeze that has sent gasoline and heating oil costs soaring and pushed California’s power system to the brink of collapse/ “You can’t have a supply side response without also taking into account a demand side effort, as well as environmental concerns,” says task force chair Edward Morse. “A compromise will result not in an inconsistent policy, but rather, is the only way to create a fully consistent policy.” The report has been presented to Bush, Vice President Cheney, and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, as the administration’s White House Energy Policy Development Group prepares for final deliberations. Growing U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources will require politicians to rethink their foreign policy toward Russia, China and the Middle East, and may force Washington to relax its sanctions against Iraq in order to get more oil. In addition, environmental concerns such as greenhouse gas emissions are too large and too public to be ignored in a comprehensive energy policy, it notes. “There are no easy Solomonic solutions to energy crises, only hard policy tradeoffs between legitimate and competing interests,” it says. “Tightening environmental regulations, among other factors, have discouraged the rapid expansion of badly needed energy infrastructure in many U.S. locations. But Americans are also demanding a cleaner environment and cleaner energy.” Americans continue to demand plentiful and cheap energy without sacrifice or inconvenience, “but emerging technologies are not yet commercially viable to fill shortages and will not be for some time.” But one of the two dissenting comments on the report came from former U.S. Congressman Joseph Kennedy, now head of Citizens Energy Corporation. “U.S. policy guided by the goals of expanding nuclear capacity and exploiting domestic sources of oil and gas will not succeed in the long run,” he warns. “Energy independence is critical (and) cannot be achieved by more drilling within U.S. borders. The only method is to increase our dependence on effective and affordable renewable energy sources in addition to creating a stable pricing environment for all our energy needs.” Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is a nonpartisan research centre.

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