Protecting Our National Energy Security

By Chairman Jeff Bingaman

September 19, 2001
12:00 AM
It is natural that, in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, Americans would stand back and take stock of our economy's vulnerabilities to other disrupting events. One of those vulnerabilities is energy. Energy is vital to our modern society, our economy, and our national defense. Without energy, most of the other major pillars of our national economic infrastructure–our financial system, telecommunications, and transportation systems–cannot function. Many of our vulnerabilities related to energy are well-known. Our transportation sector is heavily dependent on imported foreign oil. That dependence is growing each year at a rate that exceeds any potential new domestic production. Our energy infrastructure is operating close to capacity limits in a number of areas–including electricity transmission, natural gas pipelines, petroleum product pipelines, and refinery output. Our overall electricity system is struggling with the transition from a system of local, regulated monopolies to one in which greater efficiency and affordability is achieved by the introduction of competition and new technologies. Finally, the attacks of September 11 have focused renewed attention on the physical security and cybersecurity of our complex and interconnected web of energy infrastructure. As Congress responds to these energy vulnerabilities, it must proceed in a thoughtful and balanced fashion, and resist illusory quick fixes or politically popular, but economically unsound approaches. The energy bill passed last summer by the House of Representatives received considerable criticism around the country for focusing so much on providing tax breaks to certain segments of the energy industry, while including little on energy issues of great concern to everyday Americans, such as solving some of the vexing automotive fuel issues around the country and tackling the challenges of our nation's electricity system. The Senate needs to avoid these pitfalls as it moves forward. I believe that the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has been following the right approach in its deliberations. Both Republicans and Democrats began by introducing bills that attempted to address a broad spectrum of important energy issues. The Committee has held the hearings needed to understand our challenges in oil and gas production, energy efficiency, electricity supply and transmission, and new technologies. Our mark-up of a comprehensive bill began before the August recess and the Committee has already substantially completed action on provisions to create a forward-looking and robust energy research and development program. If we are to get to the new energy technologies that will improve our energy security in the 21st century, we will need a substantial increase in our technology efforts, which have stagnated in recent years. The remaining major areas to be covered in our mark-up include improving energy efficiency, strengthening domestic production of oil and gas, and developing a more reliable electricity generation and transmission system for the future. That electricity system for the 21st century needs to be based on a broader and more diverse set of generation options, with an emphasis on distributed generation technologies, including renewables. With respect to energy infrastructure security, a considerable amount of work has already been done, with particular emphasis given to security against disruptions during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-1991, in the aftermath of the western-wide electricity blackout in 1996, and during the period leading up to the Y2K transition. There is still more to be done to address long-standing challenges in infrastructure protection, as well as emerging challenges posed by the rapid advances in computerized control of energy infrastructure operations during the last 10 years. The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will be addressing these issues in the next few weeks, and depending on the urgency of what it finds, may move legislative action as part of a comprehensive energy bill or in a separate legislative vehicle. The events of September 11 highlight the importance of energy policy, but render it no less difficult and complex than before. We need to focus on making sure that our legislative efforts result in a robust and diverse energy infrastructure, and in policies to ensure that new energy technologies are incorporated into that infrastructure to give American consumers wider and more affordable energy choices. Our national security, our future economic prosperity, and the jobs of millions of Americans are at stake. I hope that in the coming weeks, we will be able to come together in Congress and the Administration, and combine a thoughtful analysis of our current energy challenges with a willingness to take bold policy steps to address them.