Energy independence is not a theoretical discussion. It will strengthen our national security and will boost our domestic economy. As a former member of Congress, Governor of New Mexico, and Secretary of Energy, I have looked at the issue of energy independence from many perspectives and can tell you that its need is more critical now than ever. As he enters his final term, I urge President Obama to take three specific steps to help move the nation toward energy independence.
First, he should convene a national energy summit. Bring together all energy stakeholders from industry, NGO, and other key groups representing oil and gas, renewables and clean tech, coal, and nuclear for a comprehensive discussion of the energy issues that confront us. The oil and gas industry must realize they just can't have a free hand. There's got to be sensible regulation. That means dialogue. Let's keep politics out of it. Other than the President, no elected officials should be in the room – they'll get their chance later.
Second, the President should direct his Administration to develop a federal climate change policy. If Hurricane Sandy taught us anything it's that our planet is saying something to all of us – and it's not good news. Economists say the world can protect itself from catastrophic climate change at a cost of one to three percent of our economic activity. We can't afford not to do it.
Third, the President must work with Congress to introduce and pass a comprehensive energy bill. We desperately need one, but because of politics we haven't had one for far too long. Here's where Congress gets its chance. Recent energy legislation has been piecemeal, and has too often pitted small factions against one another. Now is the time for conciliation and compromise on the energy front, instead of this incessant competition.
The focus for everyone – Democrats and Republicans, traditional and new energy players, regulators and non-regulators alike – should be on achieving energy independence and sustainable economic growth in the long term.
The President has proposed an “all of the above” energy strategy that makes sense. It draws upon the ingenuity of American technology and know-how, along with the bounty of domestic resources – from abundant natural gas reserves and oil deposits, to harnessing the power of wind, solar and water, and developing new biofuels and battery technologies. As a result, there are members on both sides of the aisle who support elements of a comprehensive plan and are looking to compromise.
Even those who envision a “renewables only” energy future understand that natural gas remains essential, especially in the short term. We must determine and implement the most effective means of using traditional energy sources – especially those produced domestically – as a bridge to a cleaner, more secure energy future.
The road to this future must be paved with bold policy initiatives to spur the continued growth of renewables. Public and private investments must follow the same course. Among the items I would hope to see in a comprehensive energy bill include:
Tax incentives and loan guarantees to spur development of renewables should be expanded. As I often said while serving as energy secretary under President Clinton, the fossil fuel industry didn't grow on its own, and neither should renewables;
A national renewable portfolio standard of 30 percent by 2030 – while still allowing states to exceed that goal – would be one of the most effective tools in supporting the growth of clean energy;
More aggressive standards requiring energy efficient building technologies in both new and renovated buildings, including tax incentives or grants to individuals and companies wishing to make residential and commercial buildings more energy efficient;
Funds necessary to begin the process of updating our energy infrastructure, including the integration of distributed power resources and new smart grid technologies; and
Incentives to automakers to meet or exceed the new corporate average fuel economy standards in advance of the 2025 model year deadline.
The U.S. has the opportunity to set the standard for the rest of the world in developing a diversified and sustainable energy policy that secures our energy independence. It is now up to President Obama to take the lead, creating competition that supports energy productivity, new technologies, and alternative fuels. I hope he does, and that both sides of Capitol Hill strongly support the effort. The world is watching.
Bill Richardson is a former U.S. Secretary of Energy, Governor of New Mexico, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He currently serves as chair of APCO Worldwide's Energy & Clean Tech practice.