On April 20, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig suffered an extraordinary catastrophe costing 11 people their lives and spilling hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting uproar on Capitol Hill portended that Congress was poised to deal with the issue post haste and also promised that renewable energies like ethanol and other renewable fuels would once again garner the attention they deserve as part of the nation’s energy strategy.
Here we are a day before the Senate adjourns for a multi-week recess (the House is already gone) and Congress has yet to come together on a bill to not only address the symptoms of our oil addiction on display in the Gulf, but also the fundamental disease: our addiction to oil.
The reason for the delay is quite simple. It is an election year and politics will only trump good policy in even-numbered years. This Congress, like no other before, has come to exemplify that dynamic.
Even though the reason for such dysfunction and inaction on important issues like our nation’s energy policy is clear, it is no less disappointing. By failing to address energy measures that were likely to include important provisions for ethanol and other renewable fuels, Congress has put burgeoning technologies and dynamic renewable energy industries in limbo, and with them the jobs of tens of thousands of Americans.
In order to properly address the labrynth that is American energy policy, all incentives and other policies must be addressed in full. That means that we must address the problems with deep water drilling exposed by the Deepwater Horizon explosion. But, that also means that we must tackle tough questions about the kind of policies we put in place the types of energies we choose to pursue.
If the only goal of Congress is to create a level playing field, then all supports for every type of energy must go. That means that tax incentives for biofuels, along with wind, solar, and other renewable energies must be eliminated. AND, that means that permanent tax breaks the oil industry has enjoyed for decades must also be eliminated. Asking one industry or technology to disarm, as is often what is proposed when discussing ethanol tax incentives, while others enjoy permanent tax subsidies is unfair and counter-productive.
However, if the goal of Congress is to shift the nation’s energy paradigm away from fossil fuels, then it needs to consider repealing the permanent subsidies for fossil fuels and reinvesting them in renewable energy technologies. Instead of looking for ways to cut investment, such as eliminating the tax credit for ethanol use, Congress should be looking for ways increase the overall size of the pie for renewable energy investment. Its seems paradoxial that renewable energies and technologies that most members of Congress support must come before Congress hat in hand every few years to beg for investment while the fossil fuel industry enjoys permanent preferential tax treatment.
It is a matter of priorities. Congress can choose to deepen the status quo of oil use by simply doing nothing. Or, it can follow through on some of the steps it has already taken (such as the Renewable Fuels Standard) that will begin the difficult but necessary challenge of transitioning how America uses all its energy resources.
I hope that the next 6 weeks members will spend back in their home states will be eye-opening. I hope that they listen to their constituents who aren’t asking for much, save that members of Congress do their jobs.