Don't Rig Our Energy Future

America needs a responsible, visionary energy policy that meets today's needs without jeopardizing the future health of our children and our nation

Feature story - February 27, 2002
The decisions Congress makes on energy policy in the coming weeks will shape American national energy security and global environmental security for generations to come.

America needs a responsible, visionary energy policy that meets today's needs without jeopardizing the future health of our children and our nation. The decisions Congress makes on energy policy in the coming weeks will shape American national energy security and global environmental security for generations to come.

Responsible energy policy would increase America's use of safe, sustainable, renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation. As a result, we would improve homeland security, reduce our nation's dependence on imported fuels, improve our environment and human health, create more U.S. jobs and strengthen our economy for the long-term. It would also reduce the impacts of global warming, the greatest environmental threat of this century. Indeed, energy policy is global warming policy.

Administration Policy

Vice President Cheney's energy task force's energy plan, released last spring, claims to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil, thereby increasing U.S. energy security. Unfortunately, it fails to deliver on these goals and instead locks us into increasing demand for scarce resources such as oil and gas, and would actually increase global warming pollution. The Cheney plan also dictates the construction of more dangerous and insecure nuclear power plants nationwide. The 2003 Department of Energy budget request increases subsidies for nuclear power by $30 million over 2002 levels, compared to a $5 million increase for wind and a $1.8 million decrease for solar.

House Energy Bill - HR. 4

The HR. 4 bill passed in August, doles out about $30 billion in tax breaks and other payoffs to big coal, big oil, nuclear power and electric utilities.

Senate Energy Debate

Existing energy legislation gives too much money to old, mature fossil fuel and nuclear industries, which will only further our dependence on dirty, unsafe and polluting sources of energy. The Senate "Energy Tax Incentives Act of 2002" allocates $3.2 billion in tax credits to renewable energy, but $6.1 billion to conventional energy technologies such as coal, oil and gas exploration, and nuclear power.

The Senate has the opportunity to pass an energy bill that will meet our future energy, security and environmental needs while strengthening the economy, relying on renewable domestic energy sources and re-establishing U.S. leadership in the global energy market through American innovation and ingenuity. But existing legislation is only a small step in that direction.

We cannot drill our way to energy security; the United States holds 3 percent of global oil and gas reserves, yet we account for 25 percent of global oil demand. "Clean coal" is the ultimate oxymoron, and is far dirtier then a host of other energy sources. Nuclear power plants are inherently unsafe, insecure and expensive, and there is little the government can do to protect plants from terrorist attacks.

A Clean Responsible Energy Plan Must Prioritize:

  • Energy Efficiency - Require strong standards and aggressive measures for improved energy efficiency in appliances, buildings and vehicles. Energy efficiency policies enacted over the last 25 years saved consumers $260 billion on their energy bills in 2000 alone.
  • Renewable Energy Tax Credits - Offer production tax credits for solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy. Tax credits must last a minimum of 10 years.
  • Loans - Offer low-interest loans and loan guarantees for investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
  • Renewable Energy Market Requirements - Mandate a strong national Renewables Portfolio Standard (at a minimum, the 20 percent by 2020 in Senator Jeffords' bill - SB 1333). Europe now aims to generate 22 percent of its electricity with renewable energy by 2010.
  • Government Clean Energy Purchases - Mandate government purchases of renewable energy technologies and the energy they generate. The U.S. government is the world's largest single consumer of energy.
  • Reverse Dirty Energy Subsidies - Shift government subsidies away from polluting, insecure fossil fuels and nuclear power to safe, domestic, secure and clean renewable energy and energy efficient technologies. The Senate "Energy Tax Incentives Act of 2002" allocates $3.2 billion in tax credits to renewable energy, but $6.1 billion to conventional energy technologies. Fossil fuels and nuclear power are mature technologies that should not require subsidization, and bring with them significant external costs which we must all pay by means of ill health, national insecurity, dependence on imported fuels, environmental destruction, and climate destabilization.
  • External Benefits - Account for the value of external benefits of renewable energy, such as greater diversity of fuel supply, invulnerability to terrorist attack, potential for improved grid reliability, a cleaner environment for current and future generations, rapid and modular installation, and reduced threats of global warming.

The Present Debate

The existing Senate energy bill DOES:

  • Provide some incentives for the purchase of renewable energy technologies and renewable generation;
  • Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling;
  • Save U.S. oil and gas over coming decades through an increase in CAFÉ standards for cars and light trucks (if the Kerry-Hollings National Fuel Savings and Security Act of 2002 is included);
  • Increase incentives for purchase of more efficient vehicles;
  • Improve minimum efficiency standards for a variety of consumer and commercial products;
  • Establish a national registry for emissions of global warming pollution;
  • Provide national net-metering requirements for household and business renewable energy systems, such as solar and wind;
  • Provide a modest Renewables Portfolio Standard of 10 percent by 2020. Despite these progressive elements, the Senate bill continues U.S. energy business as usual, bowing to the interests of powerful corporations in the oil, gas, coal and nuclear power industries. Importantly, the present bill fails to adequately integrate global warming pollution reduction goals.

The Senate should DELETE or REDUCE:

  • Oil and Gas Subsidies - Tax incentives for oil and gas in the Senate energy bill total $3.2 billion. Subsidies for oil and gas include tax credits and research and development (R & D) funding. The U.S. government has subsidized oil and gas since 1916. Such enormous government investments only serve to make our nation more dependent on these polluting fuels and technologies. Also included are new loan guarantees and streamlined procedures to expedite construction of new oil and gas pipelines;
  • Clean Coal - Tax credits and R&D funding for coal. "Clean coal" is the ultimate oxymoron and is far dirtier than a host of other energy sources. The Senate bill would provide $1.9 billion in tax credits for "clean coal" alone, while the Department of Energy's 2003 budget request for coal comes to $740,700 - nearly twice that for all renewable energy technologies when hydrogen is not included;
  • Price Anderson - Extension of the Price-Anderson Act, which caps the nuclear power industry's liability in the event of an accident, and amounts to a subsidy of up to $3.4 billion every year;
  • Nuclear Power - Policies that enable nuclear power plants to be run longer and harder with narrowed safety margins and less regulatory oversight. Continued subsidies for dangerous and insecure existing and new nuclear power facilities. Over the past 50 years, the DOE has poured more than $66 billion of taxpayer money into nuclear power research and development; by the end of 1999, nuclear power had received 24 times more in subsidies from the federal government than wind and solar power combined.