Coming to terms with a ‘debilitating energy stalemate’

COMING TO TERMS WITH A ‘DEBILITATING ENERGY STALEMATE’…. With oil continuing to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, the need for the United States to reevaluate its approach to energy policy has become especially acute of late. As we saw this week on the vote on a scheme to strip the EPA of its power to regulate carbon emissions, every single Republican in the Senate, and a few too many center-right Democrats, want no such reevaluation.

The status quo may not work, but an improved national energy framework carries costs and requires some sacrifices — and cowardly conservative policymakers would rather stick with failure.

But at nearly the identical time the Senate debate was getting underway on Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R) scheme, the Innovation Council, featuring some high-profile participants, offered a very compelling blueprint for sustainable energy strategy. Ron Brownstein explained that the group “issued a mayday manifesto urging a massive public-private effort to accelerate research into clean-energy innovations.”

Without such a commitment, they warned, the United States will remain vulnerable to energy price shocks; continue to “enrich hostile regimes” that supply much of the United States’ oil; and cede to other nations dominance of “vast new markets for clean-energy technologies.” […]

The council frames the need for a new energy direction as being as much of an economic imperative as an environmental one. It calls for a national energy strategy centered on a $16 billion annual federal investment in energy research — as much, the group pointedly notes, as the United States spends on imported oil every 16 days.

Equally important, the group urges that government catalyze the development of energy alternatives by sending “a strong market signal” through such mechanisms as mandates on utilities to produce more renewable energy or “a price or a cap” on carbon emissions. Such a cap is precisely what the Senate resolution sought to block. But the business leaders said that it is one of the policies that could “create a large, sustained market for new energy technology.”

One of the council’s key insights was to recognize that expanded energy research and limits on carbon (or other mandates to promote renewable power) are not alternative but complementary policies: One increases the supply of new energy sources; the other increases demand for them.

It’s tempting to think that conservative policymakers, if nothing else, would care about American competitiveness on the global stage — a concept that has no ideological bias. Republicans should take note, then, that as the rest of the world invests heavily in clean-energy technology — and we don’t — our trade deficit worsens, and jobs and industries that could grow here, have no choice but to go elsewhere.

The United States, Brownstein concluded, is “paying for the debilitating energy stalemate” on Capitol Hill. The price is high, and the consequences are severe.

If the stalemate is going to be broken, and the country is going to pursue a more responsible approach, policymakers are going to have to hear from the public on this. At this point, head-in-the-sand Republicans and anxiety-ridden Democrats would prefer to do nothing — ignoring global warming, maintaining our oil dependence; undermining American competitiveness, ignoring job creation, failing to reduce our budget deficit — because they think that’s what the public wants.

If Americans disagree, we’ll have to let them know.