We Need a Comprehensive Energy Policy

by Benjamin L. Cardin
U.S. Representative, 3rd Dist.-D
A government-led efficiency program could reduce the growth of electricity demand by 20%. But we don’t have such a program.
       Americans across the nation are nervous that the energy crisis that has gripped California may soon affect them. The expression: “As goes California, so goes the nation,” has taken on a very sinister meaning to millions of people who are worried about energy prices.

       And their worries are not misplaced. In every part of the country, Americans are facing mounting gasoline prices, increasing natural gas prices and escalating electric bills. In Maryland, we have seen an increase of 88% in the price of natural gas in the past year. At the same time, the typical BG&E customer’s utility bill has risen an astounding 56%.

       It’s clear that we need a short- and long-term national energy policy that deals with our energy needs in a comprehensive fashion. In May, President Bush unveiled an energy strategy that, unfortunately, takes a very narrow approach to our energy problems.

       The Bush plan focuses almost entirely on oil and gas exploration and the construction of new power plants (between 1,300 and 1,900 by 2020, or about one new power plant a week), without addressing conservation, the short-term needs of Americans, or the environment.

       I am extremely troubled that the Bush energy plan would freeze the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at FY 2001 levels, despite the escalating cost of energy that is seriously impacting low-income households.

       I am also extremely troubled that the President has done very little to convince OPEC ministers that production should be increased. In fact, with little comment from the Bush Administration, Mexico heeded OPEC’s call to cut oil production this year by some 40,000 barrels.

       In advocating the construction of more power plants, the President also called for reducing environmental standards on power plant emissions. That’s very poor public policy and it could have a very serious effect on Maryland’s air pollution.

       We need a national energy strategy that is comprehensive and innovative. In addition to increasing U.S. production, it must deal effectively with short-term dislocations and advance new technologies and long-term conservation needs. No sound energy policy should require us to abandon the progress we’ve made in improving the environment.

       While Vice President Richard Cheney has stated that conservation is ineffective, many scientists dispute that claim. Five national laboratories recently issued a report stating that a government-led efficiency program, emphasizing research and energy-saving technologies, could reduce the growth of electricity demand by 20%. Another study found that government office buildings could cut power use by one-fifth by adopting energy conservation measures.

       We also need to encourage nationwide conservation. In July, the National Academy of Sciences is expected to release its study on the implications of increasing the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for cars and light trucks, which includes SUVs. I hope this study will suggest the most beneficial means to address fuel conservation for vehicles.

       Finally, we need to increase funding for research into safer nuclear power plants, along with renewable energy sources such as solar power and biomass. We also must improve the delivery system of all our energy sources—natural gas, electricity and oil.

       While Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have a strong energy sharing arrangement, most of the nation does not. We need to create a national energy highway that can effectively move energy from one part of the country to another when necessary.

       I think we all realize that energy issues will be a priority into the foreseeable future. If we are going to successfully deal with it, we need to be smart about fashioning a policy that has both short- and long-term goals that are achievable.


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This story was published on June 27, 2001.