by Joan Lowy
Scripps Howard News Service
December 09, 2004
Washington - Attempting to break the political stalemate on energy policy, a bipartisan national commission called Wednesday for incentives to increase energy production, mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions and better gas mileage for cars and trucks.
The commission - which included business, labor, environmental and consumer representatives - rejected the notion of "energy independence" as impractical, saying that no matter how much domestic energy production is increased, the United States will continue to rely on foreign oil for the foreseeable future.
Instead, the commission recommended steps to increase and diversify global oil production to reduce dependence on Middle Eastern oil. It also recommended expanding strategic petroleum reserves in the United States and abroad.
"The risks of a major supply disruption are significant," said commission co-chair William Reilly, an Environmental Protection Agency administrator under the first President Bush. "We can neither conserve nor drill our way to oil security. ... The gap between what we need and what we produce is going to grow."
The commission also emphasized that energy and environmental policy are closely linked and have to be dealt with together.
"If we don't get environmental issues right, we won't get energy issues right," said commission co-chair John Rowe, chairman of the Exelon Corp., one of the nation's largest electric power companies.
One of the most controversial recommendations in the commission's report, "Ending the Energy Stalemate," is a plan for mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global climate change.
The plan is a compromise that falls between the Kyoto Protocol, the international climate change agreement that sets mandatory reduction targets in greenhouse gas emissions, and the Bush administration's plan, which allows U.S. emissions to continue to increase but calls for industry to voluntarily slow the growth in emissions by 1.8 percent a year as measured by the energy efficiency of the economy.
The commission accepted the administration's contention that emissions should be allowed to continue to grow for the sake of the economy, but advocated a mandatory reduction in the rate of growth of 2.4 percent a year as measured by energy use.
Under the commission's plan, the growth in greenhouse gas emissions would level off about 2015 and begin to decline after 2020.
The two main sources of man-made carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas, are automobile emissions and emissions from coal-burning power plants. The commission, which included automobile and energy industry executives, said climate change is a real problem that can't be ignored.
"The science on climate change and carbon is overwhelming," Rowe said.
Another controversial recommendation was for a "significant increase" in fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks within five years. However, commission members couldn't agree on a mile-per-gallon figure.
Other recommendations included expanding tax credits for hybrid gas-electric vehicles, incentives for automakers to retool to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles, and development of alternative transportation fuels, including bio-diesel and ethanol made from cellulose.
Coal, because it is abundant and relatively cheap, must continue to be a major source of energy, the report said. It recommended increased spending on research and demonstration projects aimed at producing energy from coal more cleanly.
The report drew surprising support from the United Mine Workers and coal state lawmakers who have resisted attempts to curb greenhouse gas emissions that might limit the use of coal.
"We must be prepared to make changes now, rather than wait for the situation to reach a crisis where changes will demand more drastic action down the road," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. "Many of the policies and approaches advocated (by the commission) can breathe new life into coal."
But National Association of Manufacturers vice president Mark Whitenton called the commission's greenhouse gas emissions plan "a significant threat to U.S. industrial growth."
The commission made no recommendation on whether the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be opened to oil drilling, a key element of President Bush's national energy plan, which has been tied up in Congress for more than three years.
Commissioners said they were divided on the issue, but there was general agreement that even if drilling were permitted in the refuge, it would not make an appreciable difference in the nation's energy posture.
Also noticeably absent from the commission's report was any emphasis on the development of cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells, one of Bush's top energy priorities. One of the commission's criteria was that alternative fuels have the potential to become competitive with gasoline by 2020, while hydrogen is expected to take 50 years to fully develop.
On the Web: www.energycommission.org
Scripps Howard News Service
Key recommendations of the National Commission on Energy Policy:
Source: "Ending the Energy
Stalemate," National Commission on Energy Policy