Democratic News

May 22 2012

Opinions Worth Noting

Reporters who cover energy will want to read these two editorials that ran this weekend in The Washington Post and in the Albuquerque Journal:

A viable clean-energy bill at last?

By Washington Post Editorial Board on Saturday, May 19, 2012

WILL AMERICA do anything significant to slow climate change? Cap-and-trade died in 2010. Clean-energy subsidies are expensive and inadequate to address the sprawling issue of global warming. The Environmental Protection Agency’s new carbon regulations have the same drawbacks.

President Obama’s fuel efficiency standards will help, but they affect only the transportation sector. The GOP presidential primary race, meanwhile, gave no hope for serious policy to cut carbon emissions.

The optimistic can point to one bill in the Senate, from Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). The proposal would require that utilities derive a defined portion of their electricity from technologies that emit fewer greenhouse emissions than coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. Critically, any electricity technology — wind, solar, natural gas, nuclear or something entirely new — can get credit, scaled in accordance to the improvement it offers. This clean electricity mandate would ramp up over time, requiring that 54 percent of electricity in 2025 come from such sources and 84 percent in 2035. If this sounds familiar, it’s because many states have similar policies in place, though many — including Maryland’s — aren’t as well thought out.

The plan would slash coal use, boosting natural gas, nuclear and renewables. Total U.S. energy- related carbon emissions would decline to 80 percent of the 2005 level by 2035, the Energy Information Administration estimates.

There would be costs. At first, utilities could scale up existing natural gas and biomass facilities, keeping electricity-price increases below 4 percent in 2020. But that figure goes up to 18 percent by 2035. Some regions could see higher price hikes, others lower. Lawmakers considering the idea will have to examine ways to prevent energy-intensive industries from fleeing the country. There is also a lot that a clean electricity standard cannot accomplish. It targets just one sector of the economy — electricity — when there are carbon emissions that can be wrung out of all sorts of activities at relatively low cost.

An economy-wide solution — in which the government puts a price on greenhouse emissions, gets out of the way and lets consumers decide where to cut pollution — is still by far the best anti-carbon policy. Unlike a clean electricity mandate, a carbon tax also would raise revenue, which could help fund energy research, lower the deficit, be rebated to consumers, or all of the above. A well-designed cap-and-trade program could also work. Mr. Bingaman’s clean electricity standard is, at best, an Option C.

Still, Option C is better than the current, barren policy landscape. If Republicans come to their senses on global warming, a clean electricity standard could hold the most political appeal of any big approach to carbon cutting. It is harder to construe as a tax increase, and it explicitly benefits GOP favorites, such as natural gas and nuclear energy, as well as Democratic ones, such as solar and wind energy. After many years of lawmakers proposing less appealing versions of the same idea, there’s now a solid draft on the table.

Editorial: Bingaman Plan Strikes Smart Helium Balance

By Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board on Sunday, May 20, 2012

It’s not a sexy or even controversial energy issue. But it could be an extremely high note to end a Senate career on.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman has introduced legislation that would not only protect the federal helium reserve but also jump-start private development of that energy sector and encourage scientific research.

Because helium isn’t just about balloons at kids’ parties and funny, high voices on YouTube videos. The gas is vital to a wide variety of industrial, scientific and medical uses. It’s critical to NASA research and work at New Mexico’s national laboratories. It’s used in everything from MRI scanners to welding, and is integral to the manufacturing of microchips, fiber optic cables and wind turbines.

And it can be extracted from natural gas right here in New Mexico. Bingaman’s office says the Tucumcari Basin has a particularly promising future for helium production.

The nation started stockpiling helium in 1960; in 1996 it started selling off the excessive quantities at rock-bottom prices, though the Bureau of Land Management had shelled out big taxpayer bucks so natural gas drillers would capture helium and sell it to the feds.

Now the federal law that allows the sale of federal helium for commercial and scientific uses expires at the end of 2014. So the New Mexico Democrat has reined in the issue, arguing that the nation should amend and renew the law to boost the price of government helium while setting aside a 15-year supply exclusively for federal researchers. Bingaman says those changes will bolster the private helium sector and help create jobs as the country transitions to “purely private sources of helium.”

So protecting the national helium reserve is not a sexy, controversial energy issue. But Bingaman has proposed a common-sense solution that safeguards the country’s ability to perform vital research and product support while encouraging private-sector development.

That’s a smart, grounded approach to a problem that should not be hijacked by Washington politics.

#   #   #

 For more information, please contact

Bill Wicker at 202.224.5243

or bill_wicker@energy.senate.gov

or Rosemarie Calabro at 202.224.5039

or rosemarie_calabro@energy.senate.gov

Follow us on Twitter @SenateEnergy