Election 2010 brings new energy to Washington

Karen Harbert Contributor
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It is clear that voters across America sent Washington a message on Election Day. The pundits will debate the exact meaning of that message for weeks to come, but there can be no doubt that the state of our nation’s economy was at the top of their minds in the voting booth. Americans want more jobs, less spending and a sounder, saner fiscal policy.

So how does that relate to energy and environmental policy? For starters, energy — and specifically the House-passed Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill — played a prominent role in many campaigns. With several races yet to be officially decided, we know that at least 31 incumbents that voted for Waxman-Markey were defeated. In addition, another eight representatives that voted for the bill retired, and saw their seats switch party control. Those results reflect the belief of many voters that Waxman-Markey was an unbalanced bill that will hurt the economy while providing little to no benefit to the environment. We at the U.S. Chamber reached the same conclusion, which is why we opposed it.

Beyond that specific vote, voters made it clear that they want solutions that won’t break the bank and contribute further to our alarming deficit. Unfortunately, the approach we’ve had to energy policy in the last two years has focused less on common sense, bipartisan achievements, and more on complicated, expensive initiatives — copious new government regulations, big stimulus grants and cap and trade — that add to the expanding deficit and strangle investment.

The election of a new Congress gives us the opportunity to take a step back and find areas of agreement. Our hope is that Congress will place a renewed emphasis on ensuring we have all the energy sources we need to repower our economy and attract the capital needed to develop new technologies. Much of this capital has been sitting on the sidelines, waiting for more certainty from the government on a whole host of issues, from deciphering new regulations and tax burdens to changing health care costs.

Adding to the uncertainty has been the proliferation of “green tape” in recent years that has made it impossible to improve America’s energy infrastructure. Hundreds of projects of all types — from renewables to nuclear to transmission lines — have been held up by litigation. By streamlining the permitting process, the new Congress could help clear the way for new energy projects to help meet our growing demand and reduce emissions.

We also hope that the new Congress will take the promise of nuclear energy more seriously than the Obama administration has and solidify a clear policy path to accelerate the buildup of new nuclear plants as well as a solution for nuclear waste. Any serious effort to reduce emissions must include nuclear energy as a centerpiece.

The development of these policies would be made easier if Congress returned to the bipartisan committee process that has produced successful legislation in the past. In the last several years, House and Senate leaders have brought bills to the floor that lack bipartisan support, and that were often drafted behind closed doors without the benefit of input from members of Congress and staff that have expertise in energy. A commitment to a better, more inclusive process would ensure that the framework was in place for a productive session.

With a focus on these and other solutions, we can achieve a better environment and a better economy. In the coming months, the Energy Institute will contribute to that dialogue by evaluating the progress made on the 88 recommendations we delivered to the last Congress and the Obama administration. We will also identify specific policies that we think the new Congress should consider. Now that the voters have spoken, it is time to seize the opportunity to develop and implement the solutions that we so desperately need.

Karen Alderman Harbert is president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy.  Harbert leads the Energy Institute’s efforts to build support for meaningful energy action nationally and internationally through policy development, education, and advocacy.