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GW Co-Hosts Energy Policy Forum
June 06, 2012
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar deliver keynote addresses at GW Tuesday.
About 100 people gathered in George Washington University’s Marvin Center for a forum Tuesday that examined the outlook for U.S. energy policy.
The forum was co-hosted by GW and Arent Fox, a D.C.-based law firm that specializes in energy.
In his opening remarks, Steven Lerman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said energy issues have shaped the history of the last several centuries.
“And in the 21st century, it’s unquestionable that how we manage our energy resources, how efficiently we use them and our degree of dependence or independence on foreign oil sources and other fossil fuel sources is going to be a critical determinant of our flexibility, international policy, the health of our economy and in the long term the health of the entire ecosystem,” said Dr. Lerman. “The earlier we come up with and forge intelligent policies to manage our energy resources and use them efficiently, explore domestic resources whenever possible and to shift wherever possible and economically feasible to renewable sources, the less serious of problems the next generation will face.”
Former U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, and former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who worked together on the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the Committee on Appropriations, are now both senior policy advisers at Arent Fox and spoke at the forum about the challenges and opportunities facing U.S. energy policy.
“No matter what we produce or how much we produce with respect to oil and natural gas, the price of oil is still an international price,” said Mr. Dorgan. “Therefore for energy security and international security, we need a plan that emphasizes production of renewable energy. I believe our future is in energy research.”
Although the U.S. began to lose its competitive advantage in oil production in the 1970s to the Middle East, the recent focus on renewable energy, hydrofracking natural gas and biofuels has made some improvements in the nation’s reliance on foreign oil, said Mr. Bennett, who is serving as a School of Media and Public Affairs fellow for the 2011-2012 academic year. The U.S. is now beginning to export some of its oil again and importing 45 percent of its needs, he said.
During her keynote address, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is the senior Republican member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee where she is the ranking Republican on the Interior and Environment Subcommittee, outlined the requirements for a strong U.S. energy policy. According to Ms. Murkowski, energy must be abundant, affordable, clean, diverse and secure.
“Energy policy cannot be a partisan issue. It has to be an agreement across parties and administrations. It’s inappropriate for the federal government to focus on one technology to the exclusion of others. Markets and consumers will make the choice far better than anyone else,” said Ms. Murkowski, who intends to release an energy plan later this summer. “Our country’s future strength, prosperity and competitiveness are truly on the line.”
Due to the nation’s fiscal challenges, Ms. Murkowski said it is unlikely that the Senate will debate new energy legislation this year, but it’s imperative, she said, that Congress make energy policy a priority.
“We’ve got some serious challenges to overcome, and I think it is going to take all of us. Beyond party boundaries, beyond regional boundaries it’s going to take all of us working together to forge some consensus to ensure that our future energy supply can meet the diverse demands of a prosperous nation and a growing world,” said Ms. Murkowski.
Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, said since President Barack Obama took office, America’s dependence on foreign oil has gone down every year.
“The fact we are importing less than 50 percent of our oil is something we should celebrate,” said Mr. Salazar. “Last year oil imports went down to 45 percent, which is a far cry from where we used to be at 60 percent just a few years ago. We’ve made significant progress.”
The U.S. has also doubled its renewable energy production in the last three years, Mr. Salazar said.
In March, General Motors sold more than 100,000 cars with fuel efficiency of better than 30 miles to the gallon. These cars represented more than 40 percent of their entire sales for the month.
“We are now producing vehicles in this country that are much more energy efficient,” he said.
Despite the progress, the U.S. needs to continue to broaden its energy portfolio to include renewable sources, biofuels and both on and offshore drilling.
At the end of the policy forum, former U.S. Rep Phil English, R-Pa., moderated a panel on energy tax incentives including Mayo A. Shattuck III, executive chairman of Exelon Corporation; Jason Grumet, founder and president of the Bipartisan Policy Center; and Richard Pierce, the Lyle T. Alverson Professor of Law at GW’s Law School.
Mr. Pierce argued that the U.S. should do away with subsidies for suppliers of wind energy because wind power tends to be intermittent and available when demand for electricity is at a minimum.
“When demand for electricity is low and the wind is blowing like mad, the energy is literally worthless,” he said.
Instead, the U.S., Mr. Pierce said, should implement a carbon tax that would tax the carbon content of fuels. Carbon, which is a major competent of coal, petroleum and natural gas, is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide when the fuel is burned and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
“That’s the best answer by far,” he said.