Government agencies tasked with US energy policy are “like an orchestra without a conductor,” says former North Dakota Senator Bryan Dorgan, now part of a panel of experts urging the second Obama administration to change the way it approaches energy.
Dorgan, a Democrat, is part of a Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) energy project that’s hammering out policy recommendations for the second Obama administration and the incoming Congress. The recommendations are due to be finished right after the inauguration.
But Dorgan and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Republican, told a November 27 Washington DC briefing that those recommendations will go nowhere if President Obama doesn’t give new leadership to energy policy, and they’re among the project experts recommending formation of a National Energy Strategy Council in the White House.
Chaired by the Secretary of Energy, the council would bring together the heads of at least 15 agencies with substantive energy responsibilities to hash out policy. Those agencies include the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Interior, Transportation, Treasury and State, as well as numerous independent agencies and executive agencies like the National Economic Council and the Council of Economic Advisors.
The council process would be open, and the council charged with consulting with Congressional leaders, so recommendations sent to Congress would be anticipated and cohesive, speakers said.
The council would also be charged with preparing a quadrennial interagency report on US energy status for Congress – the first one, by June 2013, to support bipartisan energy policy legislation passage next year. The project members envision the council as open to Retired Gen. James Jones says the project members borrowed the council idea from a similar council coordinating national security agencies, and the quadrennial energy review would be similar to current Pentagon practice.
William Reilly, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said the recommendation draws on his experience on the fledgling White House Council on Environmental Quality in the Nixon administration. Once the president charged the tiny CEQ with drawing up new environmental legislation, Reilly recalled, it immediately had the ears of Cabinet officials and legislative leaders, even though it was lightly staffed. He sees the same thing possible with the new council, if President Obama makes it the central point for energy policy.
Now is the time to tackle energy policy, the speakers agreed, because the US is looking at unusual good news about its energy situation. With both oil and gas production rising, the nation is in “a new era of relative energy abundance,” said Reilly, giving national leaders options they haven’t previously had.
Jones said many energy choices involve long lead times, and that requires “visionary short-term actions.”
Lott called it “time to plan before the next crisis,” a crisis he stressed “will come.”
Dorgan agreed, saying, “This is exactly the time to be thinking ahead.”
Dorgan and Lott stressed past years’ cooperation between the parties in passing landmark energy legislation, and Dorgan pointed to comprehensive bipartisan legislation voted out of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee in 2009 that never got a floor vote due to unrelated partisan issues.
They insist bipartisan solutions to energy issues can and will be found again if the President and Congressional leaders finally pick up the energy baton.