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Toward an energy policy

Published December 23, 2004 12:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Everybody says the United States needs a national energy policy, but neither Congress nor President Bush has managed to come up with one. However - drum roll, please - a bipartisan committee of people outside government has done the job.

Earlier this month, the privately funded National Commission on Energy Policy issued its report after three years of work. It's an integrated plan that is neither a sell-out to the Texas oiligarchs nor a hippie environmental manifesto. Instead, it's a sensible, balanced approach.

For example, it proposes to both expand and diversify international oil supplies while also significantly raising federal fuel economy standards for cars and trucks and appliance efficiency. It would introduce mandatory tradable emissions permits to reduce greenhouse gases and also create incentives for new generations of nuclear reactors, coal-gasification and advanced biomass technologies.

That's just a sample of the recommendations in the report. Congress and the president should look to it as a basis for reform, much as they have used the 9-11 Commission Report to spur repairs of the nation's intelligence services. After all, the first goal of the energy commission was to end the current stalemate over a national energy policy.

Of particular interest to Utahns is a proposal to provide 10-20 percent more funds to the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to evaluate and manage access to natural gas on public lands. The commission also urges $4 billion in incentives over 10 years to spur deployment of advanced coal technologies. One of these would gasify coal using a chemical process and then burn the resulting synthetic gas to fuel a combustion turbine. Not only is that process more efficient than generating electricity with a steam turbine, as is done today, but it reduces harmful emissions, including mercury.

The commission also would pump $2 billion over 10 years into researching and building one or two new advanced nuclear power plants. Without expansion of nuclear power generation, American energy dependency on fossil fuels will increase, and natural gas supplies will be exhausted in order to generate electricity. But to succeed, the federal government must resolve concerns about nuclear waste management (the Yucca Mountain repository) and proliferation.

This is only a snapshot of the proposals, and a partial one at that. For the full report, go to http://www.energycommission.org.

We hope that members of Congress and the Bush administration will log onto that site. It is hard to think of a policy gridlock that is more of a threat to national security and the economy than this one.