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3 Things Congress Can Do to Support Clean Energy

3 Things Congress Can Do to Support Clean Energy

Note: This is a guest post from Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew’s Clean Energy Program.

Amid the clamor of an election campaign season, the reality of America’s improving energy situation has been largely obscured. The truth is that the United States is making strides toward a cleaner, more secure energy sector, thereby enhancing our national prosperity.

We now import only 45 percent of the oil we consume, from a 2005 high of more than 60 percent. We have become self-sufficient with respect to natural gas, even as usage expands. Clean, renewable energy production has doubled in the last four years, helping to diversify our national energy mix. And according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, energy-related carbon emissions in this country will decline three percent in 2012, after falling two percent in 2011.

In short, with production up and emissions down, our energy system is getting more diverse, efficient, balanced and clean. But more can be done to continue these promising trends.

With the election behind us, Congress and the administration have an opportunity to build on recent progress for the benefit of the American people. Among the many possible priorities, three stand out.

First and foremost, Congress can forge consensus and adopt a farsighted clean energy standard (CES) to guide progress in the utility sector through 2030. A comprehensive CES would signal a clear long-term objective for the power sector—clean, secure and affordable electricity. This performance-based approach would offer opportunities for a range of energy technologies and interests and therefore should be able to attract broad political support. Properly structured with distinct targets for renewable energy sources, a CES could provide the demand signal that industry, investors and innovators all agree is needed. It is the single most important step that could be taken to stimulate the clean energy industry in the United States.

Second, there is broad bipartisan agreement about the value of federal investment in basic and applied energy research. The energy industry invests in research and development (R&D) at a far lower rate than other high-technology industries—in part because it is expensive, but also because of the necessities of global competition. Federal R&D has a record of success, leading to such innovations as the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing used in oil and gas production, to renewable energy and energy-efficiency breakthroughs. But U.S. leadership in energy innovation is challenged as never before by international competition. Moreover, numerous industry and academic studies have found that the United States is significantly underinvesting in energy innovation: Most studies recommend tripling the federal energy R&D budget. This should be a bipartisan priority in upcoming budgets so that the United States maintains its edge in innovation.

Industrial energy efficiency is a third opportunity for bipartisan cooperation in the next Congress. Industry consumes 30 percent of the power used in the United States. Combined heat and power (CHP) and other industrial efficiency technologies can help U.S. industry reduce power needs, save money, become more competitive and create jobs.

In recent years, leaders from both parties have put forward proposals for increasing industrial energy efficiency. There is a broad coalition of manufacturers, end users and developers eager to support initiatives that will help industry harness energy-efficiency opportunities.

President Obama recently set a basic goal of increasing CHP by 40 gigawatts by 2020. In 2013, the executive branch and Congress should work together on measures to achieve and exceed this goal.

There are any number of energy supply-and-demand options that could be pursued in the coming months. One of the clear takeaways from this year’s elections is that Americans want the political parties and government to work together in service of a more peaceful, prosperous future. In the energy sector, progress on a clean energy standard, R&D and industrial energy efficiency would go a long way toward demonstrating the resolve of policymakers in both parties to cooperate on energy policies to improve our economic, national security and environmental future.


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2:48AM PST on Nov 27, 2012


9:58PM PST on Nov 23, 2012

I was a lot more hopeful before I started reading. Our government has been stalling and catering to the fossil fuel industry, and the reason why we import so much less oil is because we're drilling so much that we're set to produce more barrells than SAUDI ARABIA!

We were all laughing at Sarah Palin saying Drill Baby Drill, but guess what, they DID, quietly. For the benefit mostly of a few corporations that make enormous donations to the two political parties. We have fossil fuel execs and former lobbiests now in govt positions, making decisions on if we should drill or mine. They want to open up state/national parks! They want to drill in Alaska, and in the soon to be ice free Arctic!

This is not good enough. They need to influence the energy companies themselves, Shell and Exxon and Phillips and all the rest to invest their money into R&D! AND we should do it to. And no screwing around and burying technology because they want to suck more money out of their filthy fuels.

Other countries are so much farther ahead of us!!! We literally suck. We are owned by companies and no one protests this, but they will trample and fight eachother for designer towels and cheap Korean cell phones on "black friday".

If we don't get it together our grandkids are gonna pay in hell for it, and this is a national disgrace.

1:22AM PST on Nov 22, 2012

Those are so ugly!

10:04PM PST on Nov 20, 2012


10:29AM PST on Nov 20, 2012


7:29AM PST on Nov 20, 2012


3:59AM PST on Nov 20, 2012


12:11PM PST on Nov 19, 2012


9:17AM PST on Nov 19, 2012

these ideas will not work! They will not because you still have politics involved. There is no trillion dollar company lining the pockets of the representatives so they will vote for clean energy. If you want to have the government fix and support clean energy, then make it fast and people will fix it.

1. Make laws stating that you if your business uses at least 50% of clean and renewable energy, you get a 3% tax discount, if you use 70% of clean and renewable energy, then you get a 6% and then if you use 100% you get a 10% discount.

2. Turn the discount around into a new tax. If your company, of over 10 million a year in profits, uses no clean or renewable energy of a certain amount, then you get taxed a dirty energy tax. Start taxing these companies that use things like coal.

3. I would figure that this is a no-brainer, because a company spends $30K on some solar paneling and then doesn't have to pay for electricity for the rest of their life. It seems simple to me. Electricty from coal, is not the answer. Cars that run on gas is not the answer. This country needs a reboot.

8:19AM PST on Nov 19, 2012

It is high time we stepped these efforts up a bit! European countries are so much more ahead in this respect- solar energy has been promoted in Germany (of all places, where the sun does not shine that much) for decades and is thriving.

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