Shaheen addresses energy policy

by Laura Bryn Sisson | 8/11/11 10:00pm

The conservation of energy is the cheapest and most effective way to address America's dependence on foreign energy sources in the short term, according to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who spoke to students in Contemporary Issues in American Politics and Public Policy a class in the public policy program on Wednesday.

Shaheen who recently proposed the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2011 explained that the bill aimed to appeal to both parties by focusing on energy savings and remaining tax neutral, rather than by introducing new sources of energy.

The bill, which Shaheen introduced with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, passed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources with bipartisan support on June 9.

The new legislation would impose energy-saving procedures on the federal government, which Shaheen said consumes the largest amount of energy of any single entity in the United States.

Although the bill originally would have strengthened building codes for energy efficiency, concerns raised by the construction industry led to a modification in committee that made the stronger codes voluntary, Shaheen said. The bill now includes funding incentives for states that choose to adopt the stronger codes, to make them "more palatable," Shaheen said.

The bill expands the Department of Energy Loan Guarantee program in an effort to increase investments that make buildings more energy efficient, according to Shaheen.

This "helps manufacturers with the costs of retrofitting buildings," she said.

The bill also sets standards for energy efficiency in appliances, according to a pamphlet provided by Shaheen.

One of the main factors behind political inaction on energy issues is politicians' denial that a problem exists, Shaheen said.

"It's hard to get people to talk about a solution when they're unwilling to admit there's a problem," Shaheen said.

The United States produces 10 percent of the world's oil and consumes 24 percent of the world's total oil, Shaheen said. She cited a 50 percent predicted increase of energy use worldwide by 2030.

China is advancing ahead of the United States in alternative energy investments, and has already reached its 2020 goal for windpower expansion, Shaheen said.

New Hampshire is set to be particularly affected by climate change, in part because it relies on a seasonal tourism industry, she said.

"New Hampshire is one of the most petroleum-dependent states in the country because we're at the end of the [natural gas] pipeline," Shaheen said. "About 84 cents of every dollar spent on fuel and home heating oil leaves the state of New Hampshire."

A set price on carbon, or a cap-and-trade system, would be the best way to promote energy efficiency, Shaheen said in response to a student question about how Shaheen would ideally approach energy-related issues without political opposition.

"Hopefully that would incentivize the new clean energy technologies that we need to produce," she said.

In the last Congress, a cap-and-trade plan was "dead on arrival" in the Senate, and a cap-and-trade program is not politically feasible now, she said.

"Why there was so much partisan opposition [to a market approach] is hard to understand," Shaheen said.

Sufficiently reducing the deficit will not be possible without either increased revenue or reduced entitlement programs, according to Shaheen.

"This country was founded on compromise and the idea that everyone had to give something up," she said.

The recent debt ceiling crisis showed that "there are some people elected who have taken the position that they're not willing to compromise," according to Shaheen.

Though Shaheen came to Dartmouth primarily to discuss energy-related issues, many student questions were focused on recent economic developments.

"It was a little frustrating as the token [environmental studies] major in the room that, after a term of talking quite a bit about economic issues, we had a speaker in for one hour to talk about energy and the environment and students still ended up asking questions about Standard & Poor's and the debt deal for 20 minutes," Amanda Wheelock '13, a student in the class, said in an email to The Dartmouth. "I think it's telling of the general political climate in the U.S., as the environment is an issue that unfortunately tends to fall out of public consciousness very easily."

The public policy class in which Shaheen spoke is a companion to the "Leading Voices in Politics and Policy" Summer term lecture series. Unlike other speakers brought to campus through the series, however, Shaheen did not give a public lecture.

Shaheen served as governor of New Hampshire for three terms, from 1997 to 2003, before being elected to the Senate in 2008. She is the first woman in the United States to have been elected as both a governor and a senator.

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