Politics Blamed for U.S. Energy Bill Failure

Officials with the energy research firm, the Rocky Mountain Institute,(RMI), lamented the failure last month of U.S. policymakers to craft an energy bill that meets the nation’s energy needs for security, prosperity, and environmental quality simultaneously and without compromise.

Old Snowmass, Colorado – December 3, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] According to RMI, several consensus-based models for energy legislation already exist. “Everyone can see the proposed bill was a grab-bag of corporate welfare with few solutions to America’s real energy problems,” said Joel Swisher, Ph.D., team leader of RMI’s energy and resource services group. “There were some goodies in there for every constituency, but little fundamental energy policy reform. It’s a shame that necessary provisions such as maintaining the wind power production tax credit were held hostage to wrangling over more generous subsidies to mature industries.” According to RMI, when the U.S. Senate abandoned work on the US$31 billion energy bill, the final argument was over MTBE, the toxic gasoline additive. But the underlying theme of how the bill foundered was over the toxic way the entire bill was created, in secret back room dealings and single-party meetings. This process ensured that the bill would contain paybacks to a range of industry interests. RMI said that it produced a bill that failed to provide a balanced, least-cost energy plan, failed to provide any advances in energy security or energy independence, and failed to address the basic environmental problems inherent in our present energy system. “The lesson is clear,” said RMI CEO Amory Lovins. “If we keep making energy policy in the old way, it’ll keep on trainwrecking. Like health care, where a bad process led to a bad outcome, the energy issue will keep coming back, until it’s dealt with at a fundamental, structural level.” According to Lovins, there is another way. A contrasting process took place last year in an independent experiment called the National Energy Policy (NEP) Initiative. In it, RMI and the Consensus Building Institute, both nonpartisan nonprofit organizations, using funding from seven foundations, sought consensus through an open, inclusive, transparent process. First, 75 diverse constituency leaders, from energy-producing and energy-consuming industries, labor unions, consumer and environmental groups, government, clergy, were asked what they wanted and why. RMI reported that to a surprising degree they all sought the same objectives: a secure country; a vibrant economy; a safe and healthful environment; and a fair and resilient society for everyone’s children and grandchildren. Around that common ground, 22 bipartisan energy policy experts developed a strong consensus on energy policy strategies. Most recommendations supported all aims synergistically; and none created tradeoffs. The NEP Initiative’s suggestions were strong on market mechanisms, light on regulation. They rested on principles such as letting all technologies for producing or saving energy compete fairly, regardless of their nature, size, or ownership; rewarding what we want, not the opposite; and preferring options that solve or avoid many problems at once without creating new ones. Two other independent projects are tackling the energy policy question using a similar approach to that used by the NEP Initiative. The National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan group also funded by major foundations, is working toward an energy strategy that would balance environment with energy needs. The Energy Future Coalition, a nonpartisan alliance populated with academics and former government officials, has already released proposals that RMI said is superior in every way to those in the energy bill.

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