April 08, 2009

STEPS TO ENERGY INDEPENDENCE

By Senator Mike Crapo


As many Idahoans know, energy and climate change issues continue to dominate discussions about our future, our economy and our security. During the recent consideration of the Senate's Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 Budget Resolution, there was an attempt to include controversial cap and trade provisions in the annual budget resolution. While this effort was defeated in the Senate, the future in conference discussions is uncertain. Regardless of the outcome in the final FY 2010 Budget Resolution, Congress will continue to discuss and debate various legislative proposals on energy policy and climate change. As we seek to solve these pressing issues in a manner that promotes domestic energy security and economic competitiveness, it is important to review and build upon the achievements of the 2005 Energy Policy Act.

Today's energy landscape is changing because of the 2005 Energy Bill; renewable energy sources have been developed and expanded all over the country and, for the first time in over 20 years, we are looking at building new nuclear plants. One of the most important provisions within the 2005 Energy Bill was the loan guarantee program which provides private energy developers access to critical financing required to build the nation's next generation of clean energy-producing technologies. That is why during the recent budget debate I pushed for and was successful in including an additional $50 billion in loan guarantee authority for the Department of Energy (DOE) program. The current loan guarantee program is oversubscribed, having received over $120 billion in loan applications for a program limited to $50 billion in loan authority. Doubling the loan authority will provide a cost-effective means to accessing the necessary capital to build our clean energy infrastructure, creating significant new jobs in the construction and manufacturing sectors at the same time.

Another important piece of the 2005 legislation was the recognition of the importance of continued research and development across energy disciplines, including the future of nuclear power. The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is the lead national laboratory for nuclear research and development (R&D) activities. The INL, working with other national laboratories throughout the DOE complex, is looking to expand the commercial use of nuclear power, a technology that today provides 20 percent of the nation's electricity and has avoided over three billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the last 20 years. Today's R&D priorities include supporting the continued safe and efficient use of the existing reactor fleet, supporting the development of the next generation of reactors, and providing the technologies to recycle and re-use spent nuclear fuel economically and in a proliferation-proof manner. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is already working to re-authorize the nuclear R&D provisions from the 2005 legislation. To support that effort, the Senate unanimously agreed to accept my budget amendment that creates the necessary budget space for the next five years to support these nuclear R&D activities.

Clearly, energy demand will increase. My recent amendments to the FY 2010 Senate Budget Resolution are two important steps that the U.S. can take toward meeting that demand with domestic energy resources. The two amendments are, of course, only in the Senate version and opponents of nuclear power will likely work hard against them. Like the outcome of the cap and trade proposal, the future of these amendments will depend on the conference negotiations with the House. I will continue to advocate strongly for them as Congress moves through the FY 2010 Budget Resolution process.

A sound, secure energy supply must be affordable, environmentally responsible, innovative and grow American industry and jobs. In this way, we will maintain our competitive edge and piece back together our struggling economy.

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