Panel: Future Energy Security Means Investment Now

Future energy security will require development of new nuclear power plants, coal that is less polluting and tougher federal requirements on automobile fuel economy, a nonpartisan panel of energy experts says.

The privately funded panel, charged two years ago with developing a consensus energy blueprint for the country, concludes in a report being issued Wednesday that the government will need to spend billions of dollars to ensure future energy security.

The recommendations of the 16-member National Commission on Energy Policy (search) are viewed as significant because the commission includes a wide cross-section of energy experts, including Republicans and Democrats, industry executives, environmentalists, labor leaders and former government officials involved in energy issues.

The group has no actual authority except to make its recommendations known to the Bush administration and members of Congress where lawmakers for four years have been stymied in trying to produce a national energy agenda.

A key finding by the panel is the need for greater government involvement in developing new and more environmentally friendly energy sources, including a proposed doubling of money for federal energy research and development, according to a copy of the group's recommendations obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Among the group's recommendations will be that the government impose a mandatory permit program aimed at reducing so-called greenhouse gas pollution (search) — mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels — believed to contribute to climate change and that it "significantly strengthen" vehicle fuel efficiency standards to reduce oil consumption.

The Bush administration has strongly opposed mandatory actions on climate change as well as imposing higher fuel economy (search) requirement on automakers. Efforts to advance such initiatives also have failed repeatedly in Congress.

Commission co-chairman Bill Reilly, who was EPA administrator in the first Bush administration, said the panel was recommending "a gradual but decisive shift in the nation's energy policy toward one that directly addresses our long-term oil, climate, electricity supply and technology challenges."

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who was briefed on the panel's findings Tuesday, commended the group for addressing climate change in its report.

"The energy challenges facing our nation must take into account the environmental impacts of our actions," Lugar said.

In some of its recommendations, the panel reflects many of the same priorities outlined in 2001 by Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force. For example, the panel calls for expanded development of coal, natural gas and nuclear power, saying that all these sources will be needed to achieve energy security.

It calls for $7 billion in federal spending over 10 years on clean coal technology and research into ways to capture emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants, thereby "ensuring a future for the nation's most plentiful energy source."

The panel also recommends incentives for advanced nuclear power reactors, calling for $2 billion over 10 years in federal reactor research. The nuclear industry maintains that federal funds for an initial group of reactors are needed to jump-start the next-generation of nuclear power plants.

To help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, the group calls for $3 billion in federal spending to advance development of hybrid gasoline-electric cars, which have proven popular in auto showrooms but are not yet being produced on a large scale.

It also said construction of liquefied natural gas (search) terminals should be encouraged, and $1.5 billion in federal funds are needed over 10 years to increase domestic production of non-petroleum renewable transportation fuels.

The commission members include both Republicans and Democrats and senior energy and environmental officials of both the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration.