A Need to Modernize Energy Policy

The Senate's New Top Energy Guy - Ron Wyden

Martin Rosenberg | Feb 17, 2013

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Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden has taken the helm of the powerful Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Many have noted that President Barack Obama last week in his State of the Union address declared several bold energy initiatives would be at the heart of his efforts to leave a lasting legacy in his second term as president.

One of his key partners will be Wyden, a Democrat, who has earned a reputation as somewhat maverick – and bipartisan – in his political career.

I talked to the senator, whom I have known for several decades, a few weeks ago as he was preparing to take his new post.

ENERGYBIZ:
What are your goals as new leader of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources?

Wyden:
I’m talking with Democrats and Republicans on the committee about how the country modernizes its energy policy. The last major legislation was some time ago, actually 2007. A lot has changed, particularly with natural gas. Natural gas is a strategic asset. It’s important to have a discussion about how to really tap its full potential.

ENERGYBIZ:
What issues surround the natural gas revolution?

Wyden:
The fracking question will be one. The question of methane emissions will be one. But I’m upbeat about the potential. The first things you look at are various technological fixes.

ENERGYBIZ:
Should we continue to subsidize wind and solar?

Wyden:
It is going to be a challenge. It will have to be part of the discussion about tax reform.

ENERGYBIZ:
Do you see any grand bipartisan deals on the energy front?

Wyden:
On issue after issue, I spend a lot of time trying to bring Democrats and Republicans together. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the ranking Republican on the energy committee, and I have been talking for some time about the possibility.

ENERGYBIZ:
Do you think small modular nuclear units are promising?

Wyden:
There are some opportunities there. It’s something I’m going to spend significant time looking at.

ENERGYBIZ:
What about the future of coal?

Wyden:
The electric utility industry is significantly moving to natural gas rather than coal. As a result, CO2 emissions in the United States have fallen to a 20-year low. That doesn’t mean that the United States does not continue to use coal. There are new coal technologies, like gasification, that are coming online that certainly ought to be looked at.

ENERGYBIZ:
Do you think we should have a national energy policy?

Wyden:
I do. It is something I do feel strongly about.

This is the time to take a fresh look at a lot of issues.

Early on, I want us to lay out exactly how creating more high-skill, high-wage jobs, and a modern, coherent energy policy are two sides of the same coin. Elections, Marty, are ultimately about renewal, about making a fresh start. There is a lot of interest in building a bipartisan coalition and a coherent, modern energy policy.

The future of national energy policy will be fully explored at the EnergyBiz Leadership Forum in Washington March 18-19. Please consider joining us for this important exploration of “Strategies for a Radically New Utility Universe.”

Photo courtesy of Sen. Murkowski’s office

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