Chairman Bingaman To U.S. Chamber of Commerce Energy Summit

September 24, 2002
12:00 AM
I appreciate the opportunity to be with you today to provide my perspective on the ongoing conference on the energy bill. The conference has been officially underway since June 27, and its meetings to date have been very productive. For example, three of the biggest issues before the conference have been resolved. -- The first issue is reauthorization of the Price-Anderson nuclear liability act, a key achievement if our future electricity supply picture is to have a strong nuclear component. Nuclear power accounts for 20 percent of our electricity generation today, and we should allow for the development of new generations of designs for safer nuclear power plants. -- The second major issue we have resolved deals with energy transportation–the enactment of strong pipeline safety legislation. This House-Senate compromise that we struck in conference will ensure that the oldest and most risky pipelines get priority attention and inspection, so that our overall pipeline system can enjoy increased public confidence. -- The third major issue we have resolved involves the efficiency of energy end-use – the enactment of provisions to raise CAFE standards on light-duty trucks. Again, we have reached a House-Senate compromise that found the middle ground on a very divisive issue, although the overall contribution to reducing our dependence on foreign oil is nowhere near as much as I would have preferred. The balance among these issues on energy supply, energy transmission, and energy efficiency, though, illustrates what I think is an important theme of the conference to date, and one that I hope we continue to carry forward. America needs a balanced and comprehensive energy policy. A supply-only approach will not meet the needs our country will face in the future; nor will a conservation-only approach. We need both. The success of the conference in striking this balance is illustrated by the agreement that has been reached in 13 other areas that, while not as newsworthy as CAFE standards, are still important to our nation’s energy future. These bipartisan agreements include the following: o a major new clean coal R&D program; o increased and streamlined energy development on Indian lands; o streamlining the process of siting and building a major new gas pipeline from Alaska; o permanently authorizing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; o provisions to facilitate the production of nuclear energy; o new programs to promote rural and remote energy infrastructure o increased funding for LIHEAP, State Energy Programs, and Weatherization; o new standards and programs for energy efficiency that have been developed cooperatively with the affected industries; o increased energy efficiency in public housing; o studies and assessment on increasing our supply of renewable energy; o directives to Federal agencies to take the lead in increasing the fuel economy of the automobiles they own; and o programs to provide the next generation of scientists, engineers, and skilled workers for the energy needs of the country. The conference is far from over, though. Still ahead of us are a series of tough issues. Some are close to resolution, such as: o provisions to revitalize our energy research and development programs, so that the U.S. leads the world in new energy technologies; and o programs to increase the use of alternative fuels in vehicles, to help counteract our growing dependence on foreign oil. Other major issues will require additional hard work to find consensus. One of the most difficult and controversial will be electricity reform, where we need to provide order and certainty to a key energy sector that is currently very troubled. While adequate electricity supply is not a pressing problem right at the moment, there is a lot of uncertainty about the future. Investment in new electric generation is down. We will feel the effects of that investment downturn in about 4 years, when demand catches up to supply. We also need to address the need for greater diversity in our sources of generation. If most of the new generation being built in the future relies only on natural gas, then our country faces a real danger that electricity prices will begin to mirror the price spikes that frequently occur in natural gas prices. I can’t think of a more troubling development for consumers and small businesses. Two winters ago, natural gas prices spiked and consumers and small businesses started seeing electricity bills that were three and four times the cost of the previous year. There is no way that most small businesses can pass those kind of sudden increases along. Those sort of painful episodes argue for measures that diversify our generation sources. Most Americans think that we aren’t doing enough to give renewable electricity generation a chance to contribute to our energy mix, and they’re right. Doing so would help us buy some insurance against future electricity price spikes. Another renewable source of energy that more Americans would like to see us use is ethanol and other renewable fuels. Again, it is attractive to think that our transportation fuel system could be made more resistant to events in trouble spots like the Middle East by relying more on domestically supplied renewable fuels. The energy conference will be looking for sensible steps to do so. The conference will also look for ways to stimulate our production of domestic oil and gas. As a Senator from New Mexico, a State with a large and vibrant oil and gas industry, I hear a lot from independent producers, who are the backbone of the U.S. industry domestically. Their biggest priority is to get the right fiscal incentives for domestic oil production in this country. In their view, that is the most important thing we can do to stimulate increased production, and I agree with them. There has been a lot of talk about the need to open up the Arctic Refuge in Alaska to drilling. Interestingly, very little of that talk actually comes from the oil industry. My approach, and that of the Senate when it passed its version of the energy bill, has been to look to the other areas around the country where oil production is not controversial, including the major oil deposits in Alaska outside of the Arctic Refuge. Most Americans don’t know that there is a national oil preserve in Alaska, set aside for the purpose of facilitating energy production. When I visited Alaska with Sen. Murkowski last year, he and I had a chance to meet with the oil companies that were developing major new fields near this Alaskan oil preserve. Those companies struck me as being more interested in additional access to those lands than to the Arctic Refuge. I think we should look for ways to encourage greater oil development in Alaska outside the Arctic Refuge. A final area in which I think the conference has a big opportunity to make a difference is in the area of climate change. Again, most Americans and most of the other nations of the world think that this is a serious and looming problem that we need to face up to. Yet, the Administration has not shown much leadership or strategic vision. The energy bill passed overwhelmingly by the Senate called for a national strategy on climate change, coordinated out of the White House by someone with authority and accountability for progress. It stated that the national climate change strategy had to reflect our need for continued economic growth and prosperity. The Senate bill called for a great increase in R&D on both climate and on technology that would help us slow the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These are not extreme positions–they were championed by Senators Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Ted Stevens of Alaska. So far, we have not been able to address this issue in conference, but I hope that we will before we are done. America needs a common-sense and practical approach to this important topic, if we are to act responsibly towards future generations. The progress in the energy conference so far has been good, and we are headed towards an overall conference report that I think will command broad bipartisan support. The support of the Chamber of Commerce for a broad and comprehensive energy policy has been a help in getting us to the stage where we are now. Along with over 1000 other organizations, the Chamber has played an important role in forming an overall Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth. The Alliance has been a constant source of pressure to keep moving forward on this bill, and I am grateful for that. As we move into the final days of the Congress, we will need constructive help even more. Chairman Tauzin and I are committed to trying to get an energy bill done in this Congress. If we are to help the U.S. economy have a robust, viable energy sector, we will need to keep pressing forward to make sure that we have the crucial balance between increased energy supply, adequate energy infrastructure, and sound energy efficiency. # # #