Toward a new energy policy

February 16, 1994|By Carl Perry and Connie Morella

IN THIS winter of ice and snow and record low temperatures, most people have been focused on keeping their body heat up and their energy budgets down.

With the announcement of the federal energy budget for fiscal year 1995, President Clinton and Congress should seize this opportunity to dramatically shift federal energy research dollars toward energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy sources.

For most Americans, using energy for whatever purpose is hard not only on the pocketbook; it's hard also on the environment because we are so dependent on fossil fuels and nuclear power. In Maryland, 47 percent of the state's energy is produced from oil, 26 percent from coal, 17 percent from gas and 9 percent from nuclear power.

Our country's reliance on these sources for over 90 percent of our energy, and our staggering inefficiency in using that energy, have caused a host of environmental and economic problems.

Energy use and production is the nation's largest source of pollution. Acid rain, oil spills, smog, radioactive waste and global warming are but a few of the environmental problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels and use of nuclear power.

Energy waste and reliance on foreign oil place an economic as well as an environmental burden on the country. For example, in 1992 alone, the U.S. spent $45 billion on foreign oil.

This figure represents half of our trade deficit, which drains away economic growth and job opportunities at home. Moreover, our chief economic competitors, Japan and Germany, are twice as energy-efficient as we are.

It's time for a dramatic shift in national energy priorities. National polls show that Americans overwhelmingly favor federal spending for research on energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Energy's budget and federal energy policies heavily support energy sources that pollute and give short shrift to clean energy resources.

Mr. Clinton's proposed budget commendably requests a 33 percent increase in funding for clean energy sources and termination of the dangerous nuclear breeder reactor, but nuclear power and fossil fuels still garner nearly 60 percent of federal research dollars. Last year, the House of Representatives, responding to public pressure to change "business as usual" and reduce spending, approved several amendments to the 1994 budget to cut funding for nuclear and coal programs. Unfortunately, the final 1994 budget reinstated wasteful, dangerous programs like the nuclear breeder reactor.

The new budget is our chance to bring a dramatic change to our energy policies. Last November, a bipartisan group of representatives, led by House Energy and Power Subcommittee chairman Phil Sharp, introduced a resolution to increase energy efficiency and use of renewable energy resources and shift $1 billion in federal energy research spending toward these sources, while reducing the overall budget.

Energy efficiency is our safest, cleanest and most cost-effective energy resource. The Department of Energy estimates that over the past 12 years, a $4 billion federal investment in state and local efficiency programs resulted in more than $25 billion in savings. Companies participating in these programs have saved money and jobs. With public and government support, energy efficiency measures could create over a million new jobs by 2010.

While we improve energy efficiency, we must accelerate the transition to clean, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. In so doing, the federal government could triple their contribution to our total energy use by 2010.

The "rolling brownouts" that plagued Maryland and the District of Columbia during the cold spell in January should have sent a message.

We have to find renewable, efficient and affordable energy sources lest future winters be even worse.

Carl Perry is the field organizer for the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, an environmental and consumer advocacy group. Rep. Connie Morella, a Republican, represents Maryland's 8th Congressional District.

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