Editor's Note: Dale Bryk is the Director of the Air and Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. This post comes from a CFR.org Featured Briefing on The U.S. Energy Challenge.
By Dale Bryk
With two grueling wars and ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, oil spills everywhere from the Gulf of Mexico to Montana to Michigan, and skyrocketing gas prices, it's clear that America can't drill its way to energy independence.
The biggest energy challenge of our time is twofold: getting our country off of oil, and building a clean energy economy necessary to support that switch.
To tackle these twin challenges, there are three things we must do: boost energy efficiency, increase market share for renewable energy, and clean up or phase out the dirtiest and worst-performing technologies and fuels.
Here's how we do it:
- Fast-track fuel-efficient & electric vehicles
The single most important step this country can take to reduce our dependence on oil is for the federal government to set a 60 mpg standard for cars and light trucks. Similarly, the market needs a push from the administration to scale up electric vehicles quickly enough to provide a real alternative to oil before gasoline hits $6/gallon.
- Promote clean alternative fuels: Performance-based pollution standards can transition the United States away from oil toward homegrown, sustainable biofuels and electric vehicles. To fully transform the market, we need to set national standards for alternative fuels, and to reduce market barriers to new fuels, such as the infrastructure needed for consumers to plug in or fill up our tanks with them.
- Provide better public transit and community planning: The federal government should use our transportation dollars to increase public transportation choices, rather than simply building new roads. Additionally, we need a federal plan to shift freight transportation away from trucks, to ships or rail.
- Boost energy efficiency everywhere: the power sector, buildings, and homes: Using energy more efficiently in the nation's power plants, buildings, appliances, electronics, and other equipment will allow us to achieve the same or better levels of comfort and performance while lowering energy bills, improving service reliability, creating jobs, and reducing pollution. To do this, we need to lift market and regulatory barriers [such as changing building codes to accommodate green building methods] standing in the way of consumers and manufacturers.
- Expand renewable energy: To accelerate renewable energy deployment, we need to adopt policies that do three things: encourage innovation spanning a dynamic portfolio of emerging technologies; offer a clear and stable support mechanism that increases investor security and encourages low-cost financing; and gradually phase out support for technologies as they mature to force them to become commercially competitive or make room for more successful alternatives.
- Clean up fossil fuels: When it comes to coal, that means not building power plants when efficiency or renewable energy is cheaper, implementing pollution control measures, and cleaning up mining practices. For natural gas, it means making sure it's used to phase out coal, and establishing federal regulations to protect against risks from fracking(hydraulic fracturing–injecting liquid into rock formations to push out trapped gas). And for nuclear, it means protecting against potentially catastrophic risks, from accidents to proliferation of nuclear weapons.
By taking these steps, we can tackle these twin challenges, but it will require private-sector investment as well as state and federal policies that allow new technologies to compete on a level playing field.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dale Bryk. For more expert voices on energy, visit CFR.org's Featured Briefing on The U.S. Energy Challenge.