Presidential Advisory Group Calls for Major Energy Policy Planning Process

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The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) on Monday  (29 November 2010) issued a report to the President on accelerating the transformation of energy technology in the U.S. Among its top recommendations: a government-wide energy planning process that produces a report every four years, with the first report due in 2015. This is the right idea -- but we can’t wait until 2015.

With a comprehensive climate bill off the table until 2013 at the earliest, the Administration should immediately begin a two-year process to deliver a zero carbon action plan by the end of 2012. This action plan should include a strategy for low carbon economic growth out to 2050 and show how the US will meet its commitment to reduce US emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.

In transmitting the Report to the President on Accelerating the Pace of Change in Energy Technologies Through an Integrated Federal Energy Policy, PCAST co-chairs John Holdren (Assistant to the President for Science and Technology) and Eric Lander (President, Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT) said that the report "addresses one of the greatest challenges facing our country: how to transform the energy system within one to two decades, through leadership in energy technology innovation, for reasons of economic competitiveness, environment, and security."

Among its top recommendations: a Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), a process culminating in a report every four years providing a "long-term comprehensive energy strategy for the Nation," with the first report due in January 2015. According to the PCAST report, the QER would provide "a multiyear roadmap that lays out an integrated view of short-, intermediate-, and long-term energy objectives; outlines legislative proposals to Congress; puts forward anticipated Executive actions coordinated across multiple agencies; and identifies resource requirements for the development and implementation of energy technologies."

In explaining why it is "imperative to speed up the end-to-end innovation process," PCAST -- an advisory group of scientists and engineers -- cites several considerations, including the need for "dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions" that "need to start this decade in the industrialized world, and with little delay in the emerging economies as well, to mitigate the risk of major consequences." (emphasis added)

The U.S. in January formally committed under the Copenhagen Accord to an emissions reduction of about 17% below 2005 levels. In notifying the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of its commitment, the U.S. indicated that the 17% figure was "in conformity with anticipated U.S. energy and climate legislation, recognizing that the final target will be reported to the Secretariat in light of enacted legislation."

Although Congress failed to enact legislation consistent with that commitment, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern on 21 September 2010 said "we are standing by the submission that we made." (see Remarks Following the Conclusion of the Ninth Meeting of the Major Economies Forum, U.S. Department of State, 21 Sep 2010)

Quadrennial Energy Review is right idea -- but on the wrong timeline

"Without a climate bill, the US needs a clear action plan to become leader in the clean energy economy and meet its commitment to reduce US emissions.  The proposed Quadrennial Energy Review is an example of the kind of plan we need," says Lou Leonard, director of WWF’s climate change program. "But we cannot wait another four years for a plan that needs to deliver by 2020. Of course, the plan should not only provide a roadmap for meeting our 2020 commitment, it should also provide the core elements of a long-term Zero Carbon Action Plan."

A Zero Carbon Action Plan (ZCAP) should include economy-wide targets for 2020, 2030, 2040, and 2050, policies and measures to meet the mid-term targets, an emissions pathway associated with those policies and measures, and a formal indication of the level and source of financial commitments for additional reductions in other countries.

For more on the need for the U.S. and other developed countries to produce zero carbon action plans -- and for developing countries to produce low carbon action plans (LCAPs) -- see WWF's position paper on Agreeing a low-carbon future in Cancun.

Completing the ZCAP by 2012 will allow the plan to be part of the Sixth U.S. Climate Action Report to be submitted by the US to the UNFCCC. The due date for that report will likely be no later than 31 December 2012 -- two years from now.

Current Law Requires a Biennial National Energy Policy Plan that Already is a Decade Overdue

The legal mandate for a comprehensive energy plan from the Administration within no more than two years already exists. The Department of Energy Organization Act of 1977 requires under Section 801 that the President submit to Congress a National Energy Policy Plan (NEPP) every two years. That provision, now part of the U.S. Code (42 USC 7321) requires a plan that must:

  1. "consider and establish energy production, utilization, and conservation objectives, for periods of five and ten years, necessary to satisfy projected energy needs of the United States to meet the requirements of the general welfare of the people of the United States and the commercial and industrial life of the Nation, paying particular attention to the needs for full employment, price stability, energy security, economic growth, environmental protection, nuclear non-proliferation, special regional needs, and the efficient utilization of public and private resources;"
  2. "identify the strategies that should be followed and the resources that should be committed to achieve such objectives, forecasting the level of production and investment necessary in each of the significant energy supply sectors and the level of conservation and investment necessary in each consuming sector, and outlining the appropriate policies and actions of the Federal Government that will maximize the private production and investment necessary in each of the significant energy supply sectors consistent with applicable Federal, State, and local environmental laws, standards, and requirements; and "
  3. "recommend legislative and administrative actions necessary and desirable to achieve the objectives of such proposed Plan, including legislative recommendations with respect to taxes or tax incentives, Federal funding, regulatory actions, antitrust policy, foreign policy, and international trade. "

The last National Energy Policy Plan was the Comprehensive National Energy Strategy [PDF] submitted to the Congress by the Administration of President Bill Clinton in 1998. The next plan was due in 2000 -- but has never been submitted. The National Energy Policy issued in May 2001 by the National Energy Policy Development Group led by Vice President Dick Cheney did not meet the legal requirements of 42 USC 7321 and was not submitted to Congress as a National Energy Policy Plan.

"The Administration has both the authority and the legal obligation to produce a Zero Carbon Action Plan that provides a clean energy vision for the United States," says Lou Leonard. "In a world without a climate bill, the current piecemeal approach isn’t enough. Piecemeal won’t allow the US to catch up to countries like China and Germany; piecemeal will not ensure that we reach our 2020 goal, and piecemeal won’t set the US on a path to avoid dangerous climate change.”  

The American public has waited for more than a decade for a plan and further delay is not a legal option. The President immediately should initiate development of a plan that will be submitted to Congress no later than 2012," Leonard added.

Other Recommendations of the PCAST Report

In addition to recommending a government-wide Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), PCAST recommends that the Department of Energy immediately start a QER of its own programs and policies, yielding a report by 1 June 2011. The agency's QER report would be updated each January until January 2015 and then would be produced along with the government-wide QER on a quadrennial basis.

The PCAST also recommended that the President:

  • General Recommendations:
    • "Increase annual energy RDD&D [research, development, demonstration and deployment] funding to about $16 billion." This is "roughly a tripling of current DOE investments in energy science and technology."
    • "Generate $10 of the $16 billion through new revenue streams.
    • "Realign energy subsidies and incentives."
    • "Enhance the Federal Government’s ability to advance energy technology innovation through its purchasing power."
    • "Reestablish the Committee on International Science, Engineering, and Technology within the National Science and Technology Council, with a strong focus on the clean energy agenda."
  • Recommendations to Department of Energy:
    • "Direct $12 billion of the $16 billion to Research, Development, and Demonstration (RD&D) funding, with an emphasis on DOE competitive programs."
    • "Exercise authorities to align internal processes and organization with energy objectives."
    • "Establish a DOE training grant program."
    • "DOE, along with NSF [National Science Foundation], should initiate a multidisciplinary social science research program to examine the U.S. energy technology innovation ecosystem, including its actors, functions, processes, and outcomes. This research should be fully integrated into DOE’s energy research and applied programs.

Online Resources

Presidential Report Provides Roadmap for Federal Role in Transforming America’s Energy System. Press release (29 Nov 2010) from Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Report to the President on Accelerating the Pace of Change in Energy Technologies Through an Integrated Federal Energy Policy [pdf]. Report (November 2010) by the President's Council of Advisors on Energy and Technology (PCAST), Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President. See also: Executive Summary [pdf]

Webcast of press conference

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