On April 21, Congress stepped back in geologic time when the House of Representatives passed an energy policy of the dinosaurs, by the dinosaurs, and for the dinosaurs. This energy bill is truly a “Jurassic” piece of legislation that relies on a limited energy source derived from creatures and plants that died millions of years ago. In fact, 93 percent of the $8 billion in tax incentives in the bill go to oil, gas, and other traditional energy industries.
Shortly before the House debate, one national leader said, “I will tell you with $55 oil we don’t need incentives to oil and gas companies to explore. … What we need is to put a strategy in place that will help this country over time become less dependent.” Incredibly, that leader was President George W. Bush. Even the president with the worst environmental record since Warren G. Harding cannot conceal that this energy bill is more technologically suited for the 19th century than the 21st century.
Instead of this petroleum-soaked energy policy, some of my colleagues and I have been promoting a new vision for our energy future, one that would avoid drilling in our pristine areas, while creating jobs, enhancing our national security, and protecting the environment. This clean-energy vision, called the New Apollo Energy Act, is based on optimism rather than self-doubt, on new technologies rather than archaic methods, and on faith in Americans’ innovative talent rather than capitulation to narrow special interests. New Apollo will commit our nation to clean energy to increase domestic high-tech employment, reduce the effects of climate change, and advance our country toward independence from foreign oil. Though the Republican leadership refused to allow us to offer a version of New Apollo as an amendment to the energy bill, I will soon be introducing it as a separate bill in Congress.
New Apollo draws its inspiration from President Kennedy’s original “Apollo” plan, which in 1961 challenged the nation to put a man on the moon within the decade and return him safely to Earth. Kennedy recognized that Americans love a good challenge and are the most creative people in human history. In a similar way, New Apollo challenges Americans to harness their legendary ingenuity and technological prowess to build a clean, economically beneficial energy system on our own planet — a planet we want to keep comfortably fit for human habitation and free from global warming and conflicts arising over the control of petroleum.
Our New Apollo Energy Act will provide $49 billion in government loan guarantees for the construction of clean-energy generation facilities that will produce power from wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, oceans, coal with carbon-sequestration technology, and other sources. The legislation will also commit $10.5 billion to research-and-development investment tax credits for clean energy-producing operations. In addition, it includes a 10-year extension of the current credit for electricity generated from clean sources. Making these clean energy sources cost-effective for citizens will require this type of bold infrastructure investment by the federal government.
There is no one silver bullet that will solve the nation’s energy crisis, so New Apollo pursues a number of other strategies as well. It creates national net-metering and interconnection standards that allow homeowners who generate clean energy to reduce their energy bills by feeding surplus electricity back into the grid. It also contains a renewable portfolio standard that will require all utilities to produce 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021.
Of course, the best way to generate energy is to not waste it, so New Apollo includes incentives for American consumers to drive fuel-efficient vehicles, including tax credits for the purchase of hybrid, alternative-fuel, low-emission advanced diesel, and fuel-cell vehicles. It also provides an incentive program to encourage domestic automotive and aerospace manufacturers to develop new fuel-efficient automobiles and planes.
These boosts for clean energy and efficiency will make it possible to meet our bill’s call for notable reductions in daily domestic oil consumption — cuts of 600,000 barrels a day by 2010, 1,700,000 barrels by 2015, and 3,000,000 barrels by 2020. These numbers are approximate estimates of the amount of oil the United States would soon be importing daily from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the entire Middle East, respectively, without a change in current policy. Lessening our dependence on foreign oil will greatly strengthen our national security.
That is in sharp contrast to what we would see under the Republicans’ Jurassic energy bill — an 80 percent increase in petroleum imports between 2002 and 2025, according to the president’s own Energy Department. That bill fails to recognize that the United States has only 3 percent of the world’s petroleum reserves but consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil — simply put, we cannot drill our way to energy independence. Even with the most generous estimates, opening up the Arctic Refuge and other treasures for exploration would not have any significant impact on oil supply or prices.
A smart energy policy must also address the threats posed by global warming. Scientists have found overwhelming evidence that climate change is caused by rising greenhouse-gas levels in the atmosphere, driven largely by the burning of fossil fuels. The argument is over — debating global warming is as sensible as debating gravity. New Apollo would enact a proposal similar to the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act by capping our emissions of greenhouse gases while allowing companies to purchase and trade credits amongst themselves to ensure the most cost-effective reductions, and funding research to help industries make the shift to cleaner operations. The bill targets one of the biggest greenhouse-gas offenders — coal — by providing $7 billion for the development of energy-efficient coal-fired power plants that sequester 90 percent of their carbon-dioxide emissions.
Allowing America’s clean-energy industries to stagnate is economically dangerous. While the U.S. has remained fixated on oil and gas, Denmark, Germany, and Japan have surpassed our country in reaping the economic benefits of renewable-energy technologies. Non-U.S. companies now produce about 90 percent of solar photovoltaic panels, with Japanese firms alone controlling about 49 percent of the solar-technology market — technology that Americans originally developed. European companies control 85 percent of wind-turbine manufacturing, and the U.S. currently imports fuel cells from Canada. New Apollo will close this technology gap with foreign competitors by investing billions of dollars in new federal research into advanced clean technologies, and creating a government-funded risk pool to help struggling start-up clean-energy companies commercialize their products.
America’s high-tech hubs like the Puget Sound area, which includes my home district, will significantly benefit from investment in clean energy. One study by the Apollo Alliance has found that a substantial federal commitment to clean energy could yield up to 3.3 million jobs nationally.
There is a sad irony in the fact that humans are now relying on energy from fossilized dinosaurs and vegetation, which died most likely as a result of climate change, to such a great extent that we are altering the nature of our own atmosphere. But we can change our path through optimism and ingenuity — our country has a history of taking on tough challenges and triumphing. It is now time to roll up our sleeves, get down to work, and lead the world in developing new energy technologies through a New Apollo Energy Act.
This piece reflects the opinion of its author and should not be taken to constitute an official endorsement by Grist Magazine, its staff, its board, their psychotherapists, or their aestheticians.