Group advances plan for broad, bipartisan energy strategy

A coalition of former lawmakers and government officials on Tuesday advanced a plan for the U.S. to cultivate a comprehensive energy strategy and unite a sprawling bureaucracy dealing with the issues.

Central to the plan: A broad, searching assessment of U.S. energy policy and programs, conducted every four years and used to create a new “road map” for future goals governing oil, gas, wind, solar and other power sources.

The group, united under the not-for-profit Bipartisan Policy Center, also recommended the creation of a National Energy Strategy Council charged with overseeing all aspects of U.S. energy policy.

Gen. James Jones, the former U.S. national security adviser, said the goal is to centralize energy policy, allowing “much more cohesion … than we have today.”

While Congress has advanced some energy proposals on a piecemeal basis, what’s really needed is a broad, comprehensive approach, said former Senate majority leader Trent Lott, a Republican from Mississippi. Congressional leaders and the Obama administration also need to make energy policy a top priority, Lott stressed.

“This is what drives our economy; if we don’t do it in the right way, we’ll make mistakes,” Lott said. “If you legislate in an atmosphere of crisis, you quite often don’t do it very well.”

Former Sen. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, acknowledged that right now, the United States is blessed with good news about domestic energy development, largely stemming from technological advances that have made it possible to extract oil and gas from dense rock formations.

“We’re filled with good news, but the history of energy is a history of ups and downs and uncertainties,” Dorgan said. “Despite the good news — and probably because of (it) — this is exactly the time, when we are not in a crisis, that we should be thinking out further.”

The Bipartisan Policy Center is set to advance more granular energy policy proposals in January. But the recommendations it put forth on Tuesday are meant to create a framework for future energy policy decisions.

Because of the group’s leadership — including not only Lott but former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle — its recommendations carry weight on Capitol Hill.

Consumer Energy Alliance President David Holt said the group “hit the nail on the head” with its plan.

“Our current efforts to establish a U.S. energy agenda is like an orchestra without a conductor,” Holt said. “Now, more than ever, dedicated federal leadership is needed for this critical task. Developing such a strategy is the single most important action we can take to ensure our economy remains competitive for generations to come.”

The center noted that a sprawling array of government agencies now have a role in dictating energy-relevant policies, ranging from the Commerce and Agriculture departments to the Environmental Protection Agency and Office of Management and Budget. On Capitol Hill, 32 committees claim some jurisdiction over energy issues.

With so many cooks in the kitchen, it’s hard to achieve a cohesive energy strategy with long-term vision and vigor, Jones said.

“We’ve had lots of energy policy, but policy doesn’t make strategy,” he added.

In a report laying out its recommendations, BP described the obstacles:

“Energy policy in the United States has …drawn frequent criticism for lacking long-term vision, being captured by special interests, being poorly implemented and coordinated, and, at times, being internally inconsistent. The nation, notwithstanding the great diversity and abundance of energy resources it possesses, still faces significant energy challenges that have large implications for its future prosperity and security. These challenges include navigating a new set of geopolitical tensions driven by growing global competition for energy resources; addressing climate change, water scarcity water and air quality; and mobilizing the resources for energy research and development at a time of unprecedented fiscal pressure on states and the federal government alike.”

The group also notes that “previous national energy policies” have “fallen short (by) setting goals that are often inconsistent, unrealistic, politically motivated and overly focused on short-term crises.”

According to the BPC, a national energy strategy council would be capable of coordinating energy programs government-wide and refereeing agency disputes. The BPC recommends that the council develop a national energy strategy with short- and long-term goals to guide decisionmaking.

It would be buttressed by a qaudrennial energy review, conducted by the Energy Department, Congress, state leaders, Indian tribes and representatives from industry and non-governmental organizations.