- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2001

First light officially dawned on the long-awaited recommendations of the National Energy Policy Development (NEPD) Group, causing a predictable supernova explosion from radical environmentalists and their benighted Democratic allies. Yet the recommendations offer an enlightened, coherent approach to our current energy challenges. The 105 recommendations contained in the report add up to a far-sighted strategy, which comes at a crucial time. In the words of President Bush at the unveiling of his plan in Minnesota, "If we fail to act, this country could face a darker future."
The NEPD focuses with laser-like intensity on the most critical problem — "A fundamental imbalance between supply and demand." Since, "Our prosperity and way of life are sustained by energy use," the NEPD recommended action in three areas: "promoting energy conservation," "modernizing our energy infrastructure," and "increasing our energy supplies in ways that protect and improve the environment."
Shortness of supply is the most burning issue, and the NEPD makes several suggestions, including opening up the estimated 10 billion barrels of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to exploration and development, ordering an "energy impact statement" for "any regulatory action that could significantly and adversely affect energy supplies," encouraging the development of nuclear energy by streamlining the licensing of such power plants and fueling research into clean coal technology. Carbon dioxide is correctly not mentioned as a pollutant, and although the report does allude to the politically irradiated issue of global climate change, this is more than made up for by the reports strong emphasis on supply-side solutions to limiting pollutants such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides. The flickering potential of renewable energy is correctly minimized, since, as noted by the report, renewable and alternative fuels, "supply only a small fraction of present energy needs," and "the day they fulfill the bulk of our needs is still years away." Spotlighting the electricity supply crisis in California, the NEPD also recommends comprehensive energy legislation which would both promote competition and protect consumers.
The NEPD stresses the need to strengthen the nations sagging energy infrastructure. This means the creation of a national electricity transmission grid, in part by the granting of rights-of-way permits for electricity transmission lines, the expeditious permission of new pipelines and other energy-related projects and the expansion of research and development into transmission reliability and superconductivity. Some conservatives, particularly those in Western states, may well see the governments use of eminent domain for building electrical transmission lines as yet another overreach of the heavy hand of government originating inside the Beltway. Yet in this case the governments claim may well be justified, assuming that property owners receive prompt and proper recompense. Electricity is a vital national resource which cannot be stored, and which, at any given point in time, may be desperately needed in many disparate areas across the country. Few would dispute the need for a national power grid, and unfortunately, the lines must go somewhere — which will almost inevitably be through someones backyard.
Backyards may also be affected by the NEPDs recommendations on the shadowy area of conservation, which include a variety of tax credits, education programs, and energy use directives, even though the report properly notes that, "conservation alone is not the answer." Conservation is already being practiced by consumers, particularly as high fuel prices cause cash brownouts of the wallet. In that regard, it is disappointing that the report failed to recommend cutting the national gas tax as part of a solution to this summers energy crunch.
Hoping that it can suck the administrations enlightened energy recommendations (and thus, its political prospects) into a legislative black hole, Democratic opposition has already coalesced into a war room on Capitol Hill. Thats the bad news. The good news is that if the recommendations are followed through, consumers can look forward to a brighter future.


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