US Energy Proposal Pushes toward Center ; from Aggressive Greenhouse-Gas Limits to New Nuclear Plants, Independent Group Tries to Bridge Divisive Issues

Article excerpt

The effort to craft a comprehensive national energy strategy got a significant nudge this week. After two year's work, the nonpartisan National Commission on Energy Policy, a panel funded by several foundations, issued what's likely to be an influential report addressing all aspects of energy policy: supply, national security, environmental impact, and diplomacy.

Recommendations are laced with incentives as well as regulations that in total are unlikely to completely please anyone - smokestack apologist or solar-powered activist. Still, the commission's middle- of-the-road approach could stimulate movement on the national energy policy, which has stalled over things such as global warming and drilling for oil in Alaska.

Among the major recommendations:

* "Significantly strengthening" vehicle fuel-economy standards while providing $3 billion in consumer and manufacturing incentives to build and buy hybrid and advanced diesel cars and trucks.

* Applying diplomatic pressure to encourage nations with underdeveloped oil reserves to allow foreign investment while also easing US economic sanctions that currently prevent such investment.

* Beginning in 2010, institute a mandatory "cap and trade" program on greenhouse-gas emissions that would reduce such emissions 2.4 percent a year. This rate of reduction is 50 percent more than the Bush administration proposes in its voluntary program.

* Build an Alaska natural gas pipeline.

* Invest $4 billion over the next 10 years in advanced coal technologies.

* Provide $2 billion over the next 10 years to research and develop one or two advanced nuclear power plants.

* Increase federal support for renewable energy technology by $360 million a year.

It's a plan designed to be both ambitious in scope and politically realistic. Seated around the discussion table were advocates for business, labor, consumers, and the environment.

The commission - prompted by 9/ 11, the California energy crisis, and rising global energy expenditures - was formed early in 2002 by independent foundations to address growing concerns about shared resources. Among the 16 commission members are former EPA administrator William Reilly, United Steel Workers president Leo Gerard, Sharon Nelson of the Consumers Union, Ford Motor Company vice president Martin Zimmerman, former CIA chief James Woolsey, and Ralph Cavanaugh of the Natural Resources Defense Council. The contrast with Vice President Dick Cheney's closed-door task force, generally thought to be industry-heavy, was obvious.

While the overall energy package would cost some $36 billion over 10 years, it is designed to be revenue-neutral in that the money would be raised by selling emission allowances for greenhouse gases. …