Remarks for Washington Post Energy Forum - Time for the Big Bang Theory in Energy Policy

Given the complexity of the issues, five minutes is remarkably
little time to outline an energy policy, but I will pretend like I am
running for President…
• My main point is that we no longer have time to contemplate an
energy policy – we have to adopt a truly balanced energy policy
• With oil prices above $90 a barrel and likely to soar, our economy
can’t afford business as usual. While we have improved energy
efficiency, the prices we soon will face will absorb our disposable
income, hike inflation, worsen our balance of payments deficit,
propel the weakening of the dollar and sap our economic vitality,
not counting harming national security.
• There is agreement that first, we have to get serious about energy
conservation. We need to improve building efficiency, lessen
appliance energy use, and modernize light bulbs. These will
initially cost Americans more, but the payback periods are short, so
maybe they will thank us – perhaps even inside the length of our
terms in office.
• We all know we need to increase the fuel efficiency of our
transportation fleet. The 40% increase over a decade proposed by
the Senate in CAFE is about right, the devil being in how we deal
with light trucks to protect our auto workers and the ability of
Americans to buy the vehicles they need for work and leisure.
• Secondly, we need to promote alternative energy development. We
can’t do too much to fund research, demonstrations of technology
and provide grants and tax incentives to actually install wind, solar
and new biomass projects – the currently favored children of the
alternative movement. We also have to help the less currently
favored of renewables: geothermal, ocean AND hydroelectric
development. They offer great promise in many, many places.
• We also have to increase spending for research for technological
solutions. We have to prove whether geologic sequestration –
capturing carbon through gasification of coal and then storing it
underground – really can work. America is the Saudi Arabia of
coal, we have to try to utilize our great national advantage.
• We have to push greenhouse-gas-free nuclear power and stop
shunning it. That really means we have to solve the waste problem;
get on with construction of an underground nuclear repository; but
more importantly, decide whether we are going to perfect a waste
reprocessing technology that truly works.
• And thirdly, we must stop sticking our heads in the sand and
pretend that we can meet our energy needs for the next thirty years
by beating up on conventional fossil fuels. …We can’t.
• We all hear that we are running out of oil. …We’re not.
Conservatively we have 39.5 billion barrels of oil – double our
current producible reserves – and 244 trillion cubic feet of gas in
areas restricted from development. Tapping that doesn’t mean we
allow gas wells in Yellowstone or oil derricks off Miami Beach.
• It does mean we produce oil from a few thousand acres of the
Arctic coastal plain and from parts of the National Petroleum
Reserve in my home state. …That we get on with building a
pipeline to bring Alaska gas to the Lower 48 States, making it the
national priority that it should be. …That we allow OCS
development in more places – where it can be done without scaring
off whales or tourists. And it means always requiring use of the
new environmentally sensitive technology we have already
• We need a “Big Bang” policy for energy. We need to rapidly
expand efficiency, exponentially hike alternative energy, AND
explosively increase the speed of domestic production of fossil
fuels, so they can serve as a bridge until new technology
realistically comes on line.
• We need all three legs of the energy policy stool if we are going to
slow the global energy price spiral.
• There are three tough issues facing us.
• One is cost; how do we change national spending priorities to free
up enough money to adequately fund the huge investment we need
to meet our energy research and infrastructure goals. We are
talking about a staggering amount – not all of which can come
directly from higher pass through costs to consumers, unless we
want to make American industry uncompetitive and hurt our poor
and elderly. We will need to change taxing and spending priorities
and that is NEVER easy.
• Second, we have to deal with NIMBY. Americans increasingly
don’t want any type of energy development in their backyards.
Wind mills are fine, just not where I can see them. We know we
need more oil, but it can’t come from my favorite places. We
support alternative energy, but just don’t build new transmission
lines through my neighborhood. If we aren’t going to produce more
natural gas domestically then we’ll have to import LNG from
overseas, but just don’t build the regasification terminals near my
coastal home.
• Americans soon won’t be able to turn on light switches unless we
turn off NIMBYism. We need to realize we are all in this
• Third, we have to deal with carbon emissions and wrestle with that
1,000 pound climate gorilla sitting in the corner. But in 5 minutes
that’s for another forum.
• My final point is that there is a lot of work for Congress. We have
to find a way to pay for alternative energy, craft liability systems to
handle geologic sequestration of carbon, implement a solution for
nuclear waste, find the water that will be needed for new fuels
from hopefully cellulosic -- not much more corn-based -- ethanol
to perhaps coal-based aviation fuels, and referee a thousand and
one valid equity, environmental and funding fights. And we
actually have to accomplish something; getting past filibusters that
could delay action until we all grow old.
• But the real work is convincing the American people that times
have changed. That energy is no longer neither cheap nor plentiful
and that we will have to embrace societal change from using LED
Christmas lights to purchasing the dreaded compact fluorescent
light bulb in order for us to have a secure energy future.
• That’s the real problem we face and ALL of us, Republicans and
Democrats, had better put partisanship and focus-group tested
slogans and preconceived notions behind us and provide some real
leadership if there is going to be any chance for success any time
soon. Thanks.