State of the Union & Energy: Some Good, Some Bad, Overall--Not Enough

The energy policy initiatives put forth by President Bush in his State of the Union address last evening are inadequate to fully tap the potential of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies or to address climate change and the national security threat posed by energy imports.

The mix of energy policy initiatives put forth by President Bush in his State of the Union address last evening included some ideas such as reduced use of gasoline and diversification of biofuel feedstocks that have merit. Others, such as expanded use of nuclear power and increased federal investments in so-called "clean coal," should be rejected. Overall, though, the energy vision outlined by the White House remains inadequate to address the pending crisis of climate change and the threat posed to national security by energy imports or to fully tap the potential of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.

The Sustainable Energy Network offers the following general outline as a preferred alternative to the President's proposals:

CLIMATE CHANGE: Continuing to invest primarily in long-term research and development is not an adequate response to the climate crisis now facing the global community and for which the U.S. bears a significant responsibility. Aggressive action is needed now and it must include a broad mix of actions that include, but are not limited to, placing a rapidly-tightening cap on greenhouse gas emissions, imposing a "user fee" on carbon and other greenhouse gas sources, and sharply reducing reliance on the mix of fossil fuels by quickly expanding the deployment of energy efficient and renewable energy technologies.

SUSTAINABLE ENERGY: Curbing gasoline use by 20 percent over the next decade is a positive goal but it is not enough. It is time to pull out all of the stops and launch an intensive national effort to significantly reduce total energy use and greatly increase the share of energy coming from renewable sources - with a goal of at least 25 percent by 2025. This would include at least a near-term doubling, if not tripling, of federal tax incentives as well as federal funding of research, development, and deployment of the full spectrum of energy efficient and renewable energy technologies -- with heavy emphasis on actual deployment. This should be accompanied by a shift of funding from fossil and nuclear technologies to sustainable energy programs. It would also include a national Renewable Portfolio Standard requiring at least 20 percent of the nation's electricity supply be met with renewables by 2020. And it would include much tighter energy efficiency standards for appliances, buildings, vehicles, lighting, industrial processes, and electric generation.

ETHANOL: While liquid biofuels can and should play an important role in meeting the nation's transportation energy needs, they are not a substitute for other, potentially more effective strategies to reduce reliance on oil imports. These include improved mass transit, much stricter (i.e., at least double) automobile fuel efficiency standards, and alternative vehicle technologies such as plug-in hybrids. Moreover, expanding the use of ethanol that relies primarily on a single feedstock - i.e., corn - is not environmentally and economically tenable as a longer-term strategy; other more sustainable feedstock options must be developed.

"CLEAN" COAL: There is no such thing as "clean" coal - only coal-burning technologies that may be less dirty. The U.S. should be simultaneously reducing its reliance on coal while mandating much tigher emissions standards for new and existing plants. Inasmuch as the coal and electric industries are mature and well-financed, the very limited federal dollars available for energy programs should not be invested in coal R&D; that should be a cost burden borne by the industry itself.

NUCLEAR: Nuclear power is not safe; it is not clean; it is not economic; it is not renewable; and it is not climate-friendly. There is no appropriate role for a new generation of nuclear power plants in the nation's energy future and existing plants should be phased out as rapidly as possible. Proposals to further subsidize the nuclear industry should be rejected.

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The Sustainable Energy Network is a network of 300+ organizations and individual activists promoting greatly increased use of renewable eenrgy and energy efficiency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, curb energy imports, and phase out nuclear power.

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