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Bingaman: Energy Bill to Tackle Key Issues

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee has been working toward producing a bipartisan, comprehensive energy bill since the beginning of this Congress. By the end of this week, we will have held 13 hearings and the committee staff will have organized 30 staff briefings on the topics that would be included in such a bill.

While important work remains to be done on a number of topics that we believe should be incorporated into such a bill, enough progress has been made on others that the committee was able to start putting together a comprehensive energy bill before Members left for Easter. Ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and I have held our first markup and will continue with additional hearings and markups this month and next.

In developing a new energy bill, we plan to tackle several key challenges: deploying clean-energy technology; improving energy efficiency; maintaining adequate supplies of conventional fuels as we make the transition to newer forms of energy; increasing energy innovation; making energy markets more transparent; and maintaining the proper balance between energy and environment policies, especially as it relates to global warming.

Deploying Clean-Energy Technology

The first set of challenges is in deploying new, clean-energy technology — particularly in the electricity sector. For many years, I have advocated a national renewable electricity standard. I think in this Congress we have an opportunity to see this idea finally become implemented. A national renewable electricity standard will enhance the diversity of domestic electricity generation, position the United States to regain the lead in world technology in these areas and prepare our electricity sector for the inevitable requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to more renewable electricity, we need to implement a smart and robust national transmission grid. I see significant bipartisan sentiment growing around the country that is in favor of addressing some tough issues that have kept us from developing a strong national electrical grid. We must also use the stimulus funding for the smart grid programs that Congress put in place in 2007.

The last big issue with respect to clean energy is financing large-scale deployment of these new technologies. For several years, we have been looking for ways to facilitate the large-scale investments needed by the energy sector. This problem has become even more acute as a result of the meltdown in financial markets.

Improving Energy Efficiency

A huge source of potential for energy savings is in improving efficiencies in the way that we use energy. In the building sector, our current laws to promote efficiency are too weak. We need to do more to advance the adoption of modern, energy-saving building codes across the country.

Another energy-efficiency topic that we will be addressing concerns appliances. Our government needs to find ways to enhance its existing appliance standards program and should consider whether alternative regulatory approaches make sense.

Our ability to deliver new energy technologies and innovations obviously depends crucially on our ability to fund new energy science and engineering, and on training the next generation of energy researchers, engineers and technicians. Our investments in these areas have been totally inadequate over the past decade, and we intend to boost these levels substantially.

Finally, we need to redouble our efforts to reduce the industrial sector’s energy intensity by 2015. Without such a program, volatile energy prices will continue to damage our manufacturing base and threaten higher-wage American jobs.

Promoting Conventional Fuels

Our push for new clean sources of energy and greater energy efficiency does not mean that we can ignore our existing major sources of energy. We must make the transition to an energy future where our reliance on traditional fossil fuels will be lessened. But that transition will not happen overnight. We need an intelligent policy to continue to promote domestic production of oil and natural gas, both onshore and offshore in an environmentally responsible way.

Making Markets More Transparent

Another new set of challenges in energy policy relates to the functioning of energy markets. As oil and gas prices gyrated wildly over the past year, most of us became aware of what experts have been referring to as the “new fundamentals— in energy markets. We need better data and oversight over these new market players and forces, if we want energy markets to function effectively in the future.

Maintaining the Proper Balance

The final challenge, as I see it, is maintaining the proper balance between energy and environment policy. We face an international climate crisis that demands a worldwide revolution in energy technology if we are to prevent potentially catastrophic environmental changes. We need to have a robust debate on how best to construct a mandatory regulatory regime to mitigate global climate change.

If we care about our nation’s future, we need to look for the bipartisan, substantive and forward-looking approach to energy. I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and with the Obama administration to help ensure that.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

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