THE IDEA LAB: A New Energy Vision for America: The Architecture of Abundance

July 16, 2014

At the EIA 2014 Energy Conference yesterday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) unveiled the details of his Architecture of Abundance energy policy vision and described the five pillars necessary to support it: modernizing infrastructure, maintaining diverse electricity generation, permitting a new manufacturing renaissance, harnessing energy efficiency and innovation, and unleashing energy diplomacy. In a new column today, Chairman Upton explains, “Constructing these five pillars will allow us to make the most of our energy resources, and fully realize our potential to be an American energy superpower.”

To learn more about this new energy vision for America, and the work of the Energy and Commerce Committee to construct the five pillars of the Architecture of Abundance, visit: http://energycommerce.house.gov/yes2energy.

A New Energy Vision for America: The Architecture of Abundance

By Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI)

President Jimmy Carter created the Department of Energy in 1977 in the wake of the Arab oil embargo and a national energy crisis. In a nationally televised prime-time address, President Carter laid out his national energy plan, proclaiming, “We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us. … The oil and natural gas we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are running out. In spite of increased effort, domestic production has been dropping steadily at about six percent a year. Imports have doubled in the last five years. Our nation's independence of economic and political action is becoming increasingly constrained.”

Our energy position today is much different than the one Carter outlined nearly four decades ago. Instead of the oil and natural gas shortages, we are facing a remarkable surplus of supplies, and our energy future has never looked brighter. We are emerging as the world’s leading energy superpower – eclipsing Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the largest producing nation of both natural gas and oil. And we are no longer beholden to adverse exporters overseas, and now have the resources to control our own energy destiny. In fact, our abundant natural resources give us the power to exert a stronger influence across the globe, providing the capability to help our allies in need and marginalize the influence of hostile regimes.

But despite these dramatic changes in our energy landscape, our energy policy still looks very similar to the one Carter prescribed. The laws and regulations currently on the books are still rooted in an era of scarcity and are holding back opportunities to capitalize on our newfound energy abundance. America’s energy boom occurred largely in spite of these policies, which seek to ration our resources, limit access, and artificially inflate prices.

Unfortunately, the current administration is still following Carter’s principles and is seeking to create new layers of red tape on top of the laws and regulations already in place.

It is time for a different vision for American energy – one that seeks to harness the benefits of our energy abundance and better connect these new resources to the people who need them in a safe and responsible way. A federal energy policy of the 21st century should learn from the mistakes of the past and propel us forward. At the Energy and Commerce Committee we are taking on this task, and constructing what we call the Architecture of Abundance.

Building the Architecture of Abundance requires a whole range of tools to take full advantage of our energy resources – a broad array of policies that can be understood within five key policy goals, or pillars, for America’s energy future.

The first pillar is modernizing and updating our nation’s transmission and distribution infrastructure to keep pace with our growing energy supplies. For Americans to enjoy the benefits of our energy, it must be transported to those who need it. Stranded energy doesn’t do anyone any good. The House of Representatives has already taken action to help build modern new pipelines and transmission lines with legislation to cut red tape and reform outdated permitting polices, and we will continue to explore ways to facilitate the timely construction of these much-needed infrastructure projects.

The second pillar is maintaining a diverse electricity portfolio. Affordable and reliable electricity is the backbone of a competitive economy, but this basic need is being threatened by new rules and regulations seeking to limit the variety of electricity sources available. Baseload generation sources like coal and nuclear are now in jeopardy, which is why we are seeking to reverse this trend and promote a true ‘all-of-the-above’ electricity portfolio.

The third pillar is permitting a new manufacturing renaissance. Our abundance of affordable energy is helping to revive American factories and bring back jobs from overseas. But regulatory uncertainty is still holding back new projects and investments. By constructing a commonsense permitting process, we can take advantage of the tremendous opportunity before us to fuel an industrial resurgence and regain our position as the world’s manufacturing leader.

The fourth pillar is harnessing new energy innovation and efficiency. Promoting energy efficiency is one of the easiest ways to reduce waste and cut costs for consumers and taxpayers. The private sector has already made huge gains in this arena, and we can continue to encourage this innovation without limiting consumer choices. Additionally, we must continue to promote the development of new and renewable sources of energy like hydropower, and update laws that haven’t adapted to today’s new energy realities like the renewable fuel standard.

The fifth pillar is unleashing a new era of energy diplomacy. Our energy surplus can be used as a diplomatic tool and as a force of good for the world. The recent crisis in Ukraine brought this opportunity to the forefront, as our allies called for our help to loosen Russia’s grip on the global gas market. Increasing U.S. exports of natural gas could increase energy security abroad while supporting job creation here at home. Similar opportunities may exist with oil, coal, nuclear, and renewable technology exports.

Underlying these pillars must be a foundation of modern tools to meet modern challenges, such as ensuring our energy infrastructure is resilient to the climate, as well as other emerging threats like cyber and physical attacks. We all know that weather events can be unpredictable and destructive, particularly as more people and property take root on coastlines and other vulnerable terrains, and we need climate and energy policies that ensure our economy and infrastructure can withstand these risks and dangers. What we don’t need is a climate policy that will hamstring our economy and make energy more expensive.

Constructing these five pillars will allow us to make the most of our energy resources, and fully realize our potential to be an American energy superpower. Our energy sector is already a bright spot in our economy, supporting millions of jobs and spurring economic activity across the country. But as my old boss President Reagan used to say, “You ain't seen nothing yet.” With the right policies in place, the benefits of our energy abundance can grow tenfold. That means even more jobs and investment, cheaper energy for manufacturers and the middle class, and increased domestic and global energy security.

By building the Architecture of Abundance we can hit the reset button on America’s energy policy. Jimmy Carter said, “By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us.” We now have a blueprint to control our energy future instead of letting the stale policies of the past control us. We enjoy exciting potential, and the future looks bright as long as our policymakers can say “yes” to energy.

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