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Looking Ahead: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bingaman

Richard M. Jones
Number 106 - November 11, 2008  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) outlined his legislative intentions in a speech to the Senate before it recessed for the November election. The chairman described his committee's future agenda in areas such as new energy technologies, energy infrastructure, energy efficiency, and funding. Bingaman also described plans to solicit expert opinion in coming months on matters before the committee.

Chairman Bingaman discussed the bipartisan approach he will take as the committee conducts its business. Bingaman has a strong relationship with the committee's Ranking Republican, Pete Domenici (R-NM), who is retiring at the end of this session of Congress. Larry Craig (R-ID), the next most senior Republican on the committee, is also retiring. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is next-in-line on the Republican side. Murkowski's State of Alaska has been noticeably impacted by warming temperatures, and she has cosponsored legislation authored by Bingaman to reduce carbon emissions.

Excerpts from Bingaman's speech follow:

BIPARTISANSHIP:

"Throughout much of 2008, energy issues have been surrounded by more partisanship, as energy emerged as a key concern for voters and as an issue on the campaign trail. That is an important reason why, despite so much floor discussion of energy and energy-related topics, we don’t have much to show as a result. When energy issues become polarized along party lines, it’s clear that the Senate loses its ability to legislate in an effective way.

"I am pleased that in the past few weeks, we have begun to find a bipartisan way forward on energy again. We have put together an energy tax incentive package that has won broad support . . . . Also, we have made some significant bipartisan progress on energy policy in the Continuing Resolution. The moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration has been lifted for much of the Outer Continental Shelf – a development that I support. We have also fully funded the direct loan program for retooling the automobile industry, permitting up to $25 billion in loans to be made to help move our transportation sector into a cleaner and more energy-efficient future. This is important to our future national economic security.

"I hope that all these accomplishments make it across the finish line into enactment in the next few days. If they do, they will help set the stage for what I hope will be a re-emergence of bipartisanship on energy after the elections are over and we reconvene next year for the 111th Congress.

"I would like to make clear this morning my intention to push early and hard in the next Congress to return us to an effective, bipartisan and comprehensive approach to energy policy. Despite the successes that we have had in this Congress and the last, there is a lot of work that remains to be done to secure an energy future that is adequate, affordable, and clean.

"Let me talk about a few of the energy challenges that I think we will face in the next Congress, and that I plan to work on, as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, along with my colleagues in the Committee on both sides of the aisle."

NEW ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES:

"We have a real need to work on the deployment of new energy technologies of all kinds. Particularly with the growing concern about global warming, we need to make sure that we are developing and putting in place a new generation of clean, low-carbon energy technologies. Those technologies include renewable energy; carbon capture, transportation, and storage; and other low-carbon technologies, like nuclear power. There is a global clean-tech revolution that we can either lead, or completely miss out on. I believe that we need to make the investments here in the United States to lead it."

ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE:

"Along with new clean energy technologies, we will need a modernized energy infrastructure to make sure that clean energy can be transported or transmitted from wherever it is generated to where it is needed. Without a major new focus on putting in place a 21st-century energy infrastructure, we will not be able to make progress on either our energy security goals or our climate security goals."

ENERGY EFFICIENCY:

“Along with new sources of energy, we need to make much more progress on using energy wisely and efficiently. A major focus of our efforts needs to be made in the transportation sector. Many here in the Senate have talked about the need for another new Manhattan Project or Apollo Project endeavor in this area. While I recognize that a different Senate Committee - the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation - is largely responsible for regulatory standards on fuel economy, there is a lot that the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources can do to make sure that we have the right technology push for advanced vehicles, and I see that as a focus for the next Congress.

"Our concern for energy efficiency also needs to focus on what we can do to improve energy usage in manufacturing, buildings, commercial equipment and appliances. There is a long-standing partnership between Congress, efficiency advocacy groups and industry in setting the bar increasingly higher in these areas, and I hope that we can push for still more improvements in the next Congress."

NEW RESEARCHERS:

"Our ability to deliver new energy technologies and innovations will depend crucially on our ability to fund new energy science and engineering, and on training the next generation of energy researchers and technicians. Our investments in these areas have been totally inadequate over the past decade, and we need to boost these levels substantially. That is a cause that has strong bipartisan support here in the Senate, and I look forward to working with colleagues both on and off the Energy Committee to get those enhanced resources put in place.

"Finally, we need to improve the functioning of Federal agencies and programs relating to energy across the board. We need to develop real strength in the Federal government in terms of working with entrepreneurs, industry, and markets in commercializing new energy technologies. We need to ensure that a new generation of energy professionals can be brought into government to help us meet the challenges before us."

OTHER ISSUES:

"This is a brief list of some of the key challenges that will face us in the next Congress. It is not intended to be an exhaustive one. I want to hear from and consider the ideas of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle as we prepare for the next Congress. The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has a long history of bipartisanship. Energy really is not an inherently partisan issue, and I am looking forward to a return to a more bipartisan approach on energy here in the Senate starting after the election.

"It is my hope that, during the interval between Election Day and the convening of the 111th Congress, I will be able to solicit the advice and suggestions of all Members of the Senate on areas they recommend for focus in new energy legislation. My particular interest will be on identifying ideas that the Energy Committee can appropriately work on and report to the full Senate early next year. We have had some good bipartisan workshops and summits already this year, and I want to build on those events and conversations to ensure that we can get off to a quick start in the new Congress."

EXTERNAL INPUT:

"Between now and next January, I will also be reaching out to energy experts outside the Senate for their ideas and recommendations. A large number of distinguished outside groups, such as the National Academy of Sciences, have either recently released or are about to release their recommendations for next steps in energy policy. I have asked my staff to work in a bipartisan manner to help identify and serve as a bridge to get those reports on energy priorities before us, so that we can draw on the best insights from scientific and other experts on energy. My staff will similarly be organizing other background briefings on other key energy issues."

NATIONAL ECONOMY:

"Our country faces real challenges to our future economic strength. Energy is central to many of those challenges. 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 push forward, because the scale of our energy system, both here in the United States and globally, is so large that if we want to see real changes anytime soon, then we don’t have the luxury of partisan delay and buck passing."

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095