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Energy Bill Squandered on Partisan Politics

Failure Offers Clues about How Not to Do - and How to Do - Energy Policy

OLD SNOWMASS, Dec. 2 - Officials with Rocky Mountain Institute, one of the world's leading energy research firms, lamented the failure last month of U.S. policymakers to craft an energy bill that meets the nation's energy needs for security, prosperity, and environmental quality simultaneously and without compromise. And, they said, several consensus-based models for energy legislation already exist.

"Everyone can see the proposed bill was a grab-bag of corporate welfare with few solutions to America's real energy problems," said Joel Swisher, Ph.D., team leader of RMI's energy and resource services group. "There were some goodies in there for every constituency, but little fundamental energy policy reform. It's a shame that necessary provisions such as maintaining the wind power production tax credit were held hostage to wrangling over more generous subsidies to mature industries."

Amory Lovins, CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute said, "The lesson is clear. If we keep making energy policy in the old way, it'll keep on trainwrecking. Like health care, where a bad process led to a bad outcome, the energy issue will keep coming back, until it's dealt with at a fundamental, structural level."

When the U.S. Senate abandoned work on the $31 billion energy bill, the final argument was over MTBE, the toxic gasoline additive. But the underlying theme of how the bill foundered was over the toxic way the entire bill was created, in secret back room dealings and single-party meetings. This process ensured that the bill would contain paybacks to a range of industry interests. And it produced a bill that failed to provide a balanced, least-cost energy plan, failed to provide any advances in energy security or energy independence, and failed to address the basic environmental problems inherent in our present energy system.

There is another way, Lovins noted. A contrasting process took place last year in an independent experiment called the National Energy Policy Initiative (www.nepinitiative.org). In it, Rocky Mountain Institute and the Consensus Building Institute, both nonpartisan nonprofit organizations, using funding from seven foundations, sought consensus through an open, inclusive, transparent process.

First, 75 diverse constituency leaders - from energy-producing and -consuming industries, labor unions, consumer and environmental groups, government, clergy - were asked what they wanted and why. To a surprising degree they all sought the same objectives: a secure country; a vibrant economy; a safe and healthful environment; and a fair and resilient society for everyone's children and grandchildren.

Around that common ground, 22 distinguished and bipartisan energy policy experts developed a strong consensus on energy policy strategies. Most recommendations supported all aims synergistically, and none created tradeoffs.

The NEP Initiative's suggestions were strong on market mechanisms, light on regulation. They rested on such common-sense principles as letting all technologies for producing or saving energy compete fairly, regardless of their nature, size, or ownership; rewarding what we want, not the opposite; and preferring options that solve or avoid many problems at once without creating new ones.

Two other independent projects are tackling the energy policy question using a similar approach to that used by the NEP Initiative. The National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan group also funded by major foundations, is working toward an energy strategy that would balance environment with energy needs. And the Energy Future Coalition, a nonpartisan alliance populated with academics and former government officials, has already released proposals superior in every way to those in the energy bill.

For more information please visit http://www.rmi.org, http://www.nepinitiative.org, or call Rocky Mountain Institute at 970-927-3851 (email outreach@rmi.org).

Rocky Mountain Institute is a 20 year-old entrepreneurial nonprofit organization. RMI's staff shows businesses, communities, individuals, and governments how to meet their goals in ways that create more wealth and protect the environment simultaneously-often by meeting goals more efficiently. For more on our work, please visit our main website at http://www.rmi.org, or go to our Media Materials section at http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid65.php.


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