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Energy Consumers Are Speaking. Will the Administration Listen? | Commentary

By Lance Brown When it comes to generating jobs and rebuilding the American economy, no single factor is more important than access to reliable, low-cost electricity. It is the fundamental building block of high-tech industry and the competitive advantage that many U.S. firms have used to hold steady against foreign competition.  

That’s why threats to the reliability and the affordability of energy are particularly dangerous. That’s also why conversations about the future of energy are more important than ever for power providers and their customers.  

Recently in Tampa, the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) convened the second installment of the Gulf Coast Energy Forum, an annual event created to discuss the common challenges and opportunities that face Gulf Coast states. We believe that this region, perhaps more than any other, has much to gain from our nation’s plentiful energy resources and much to lose from burdensome rule making that stifles power production and hampers economic growth. For this reason, we were pleased to partner with a number of local and regional stakeholders to offer this event free of charge to energy stakeholders and all members of the public. The event was also live-streamed for those unable to attend.  

As part of the Forum’s agenda, attendees heard from utility executives along the Gulf Coast, from Mississippi to south Florida, including investor-owned utilities and rural cooperatives. They heard from Chuck Schmitt, President of SSAB Americas, a major steel manufacturer, about the critical nexus between electricity and heavy manufacturing. State elected officials discussed the role of states in complying with new federal regulations and public service commissioners talked about the difficulty of creating a responsible path forward for customers in an ever-tightening regulatory landscape. National Black Chamber of Commerce President Harry Alford spoke to the effect of aggressive new environmental rules on minority businesses and families.  

From energy stakeholders across the gulf coast region came a clear theme: new federal regulations will burden the economy and hurt energy consumers unless our nation’s leaders act quickly.  

U.S. Representative Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., the closing keynote speaker, crystallized this theme with an unvarnished criticism of regulatory overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency. As a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Bilirakis has been outspoken, as have his colleagues, about the need to rein in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Through a barrage of new regulations, Bilirakis and others argue, the agency has painted American energy production into a corner, diverting the path toward reliable, low-cost electricity toward a future that is less secure and more costly.  

In Gulf Coast states and elsewhere, the opportunity still remains for policymakers to return to a winning path for energy consumers. The chance still exists to allow innovation, not regulation, to predicate the use of the most plentiful energy reserves in the world and to ensure that environmental goals remain balanced with economic realities. That chance is best realized, in our view, through robust and honest dialogue between those who create energy policy and those who pay for it. In Tampa last week, consumers spoke clearly. Now it’s time for the EPA and the Administration to listen.  

Lance Brown is the Executive Director of the Partnership for Affordable and Clean Energy (PACE).

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