Energy on backburner, but pipeline possibilities aplenty

April 17, 2013 By    

With the consuming focus on sequestration and the federal budget, energy issues appear to be a low priority in Congress and at the White House this year.

Moreover, the great political divide over federal spending and tax increases do not bode well for any compromise in Congress that would allow energy issues to move forward. However, there are possibilities.

A recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) sets a powerful backdrop for any and all discussions on energy issues. According to the EIA, North America could be energy independent by 2020 due to the growth of the oil and natural gas industries. The agency also estimates worldwide carbon dioxide emissions to increase by more than 40 percent by 2035.

For his part, President Barack Obama continues to highlight issues related to climate change. In his State of the Union address, Obama called for the reduction of greenhouse gases and said, “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”

With little hope for congressional action, some members, such as Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., support the president’s efforts to act unilaterally through regulation, in ways that can affect climate change.

One significant regulation expected this year from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. This has been a major, and controversial, focus of Obama’s EPA. However, several issues may delay the timing of the regulation, currently expected this month.

Obama nominated Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s assistant administrator for the office of air and radiation, to be the new EPA administrator. Wanting to avoid any political fallout, the agency may time the rule’s release so it does not come out before her Senate confirmation hearing. Also, the EPA knows it will face a legal challenge on the regulation and needs to be certain its rule will be able to stand up in court.

Along with climate change issues, the president continues to promote investments in green energy. He has also called for a new “energy security trust fund” to promote alternative fuels and vehicles. This would be funded through revenues on oil and gas development. These ideas are currently reflected in Democrats’ proposals on Capitol Hill.
Republicans, meanwhile, are highlighting their energy priorities through Rep. Paul Ryan’s, R-Wis., budget proposal. They’ve included a measure to expand federal lands available for oil and gas development and a mandate to approve building of the Keystone XL Pipeline to move fuel from Canada to Nebraska.

Pressure for Keystone continues to build on the administration. In a recent Washington Post editorial, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, hit an important political button, writing, “The State Department released a report this month that makes clear there is no reason to further delay this project, which enjoys broad public support and will create tens of thousands of American jobs. Unfortunately, lawmakers and interests in the president’s party are standing in the way. This is another chance for the president to forge common ground and stand up for middle-class jobs.”

Not to be forgotten, in Congress, tax policy often affects energy policy. One idea being discussed is a measure to expand energy efficiency and conservation measures through tax incentives. Republicans are not likely to support any new programs that increase federal spending, but a comprehensive energy efficiency bill had bipartisan support in the Senate last year and is being championed this year.

These are just a few energy issues that may see substantive action this year. Given the importance of energy to our domestic economy and international affairs, it deserves all the attention it can get. Energy will continue to be a major driver for and cost to our economy. Our country must find a way to balance the ever-increasing demand for energy by developing its own ample resources – whether they be in, on or above the ground.

I think most Americans would rather see the U.S. face these challenges and opportunities responsibly than continue with our dependence abroad.

Lisa Bontempo was a longtime energy lobbyist, including 13 years with NPGA. She remains involved in national politics and can be reached at lisabontempo@msn.com.

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