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Renewed Energy

by Amy F. Isaacs

The pundits and politicos predict a Democratic tidal wave for the fall elections with at least the House of Representatives controlled by Democrats for the next two years. House Democrats already have a long list of priorities on which they plan to act. Raising the federal minimum wage, changing course in Iraq, and lowering the cost of higher education are but a few.

Energy independence is another item on the list and Democrats need to address this immediately. Energy policy needs to be redirected, without delay.

A progressive Congress should focus its efforts on lowering demand for fossil fuels by supporting, not just in press releases and photo-ops, substantial programs to research and expand alternative fuels. There should be no more government subsidies for the oil and gas industry that continues to compete with itself for record corporate profits. And, there must be no more devastation of our earth in a quest to squeeze out a few desperate drops of oil when real, clean, sustainable alternatives abound.

A new Democratic majority should provide a healthy climate for innovation and research. By making machines more efficient, we can work toward eliminating oil and gas-burning machines altogether and lower our dependency on a volatile global energy market.

One way to foster innovation in this area would be to require higher fuel efficiency from manufacturers and to do so as part of an accelerated timeline. We could start by requiring fuel efficiency testing to be done under realistic conditions rather than the current method which tests in perfect weather, at low speeds, without air conditioners running, and often without even so much as a passenger. How often do you drive under these conditions? That simple change and the fuel savings required to bring auto companies into line under real conditions would save in the neighborhood of 30 billion gallons of gasoline a year or roughly 20%.

Other opportunities like this exist too. More hybrid vehicles should be developed, the processing of ethanol should get government help to increase efficiency, and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power must get much needed backing.

How will this be paid for? What will be the economic impact? Paying for a new approach to energy could be started by repealing the irresponsible tax breaks and incentives given to oil and energy companies. Exxon, for example, just recorded another enormously profitable quarter. Taxpayers are responsible for a significant portion of that profit through the tax dollars not collected under current energy policy. How does Exxon pay consumers back for this generosity? High prices at the pump and in home energy bills. Enough is enough. To put this plan into motion, the sop to big oil must stop and the increased revenue used for research and development. Some of that money could also be used to lower current energy costs, thus helping to boost local economies as consumers are free to use their savings in different ways. Additionally, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of jobs would be created by expanding alternative energy research, development, and production.

There are a number of comprehensive plans that have been introduced in Congress that address our long-term energy needs while providing cleaner, sustainable energy sources. The current Congressional leadership bought and paid for by energy and industry lobbyists, however, has been reluctant to move any of this legislation forward. A new Democratic controlled Congress would owe it to consumers, to the environment, and to our future to dust off these bills that are wasting away under the current Congressional leadership and shine a light of hope on a new approach to national energy policy. If we fail to act, the Arctic ice cap will continue to melt faster than your Thanksgiving turkey will thaw.

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Amy Isaacs is the National Director of Democratic Action (ADA) (www.adaction.org), the nation's most experienced liberal lobbying organization.

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