Weekly Column By Sen. Lamar Alexander - Bodman Nomination

For the week of January 31, 2005

Posted on January 28, 2005

As a member of the Senate Energy Committee, I recently took part in the nomination hearing for Dr. Samuel Bodman to be the new Energy Secretary. I am proud to say that he is an excellent choice. His education, experience and management credentials provide a strong foundation for leading one of the nation's most important and complex organizations. Our nation's energy policy has reached a major crossroads. If we continue down the current path, we will continue to depend on foreign sources of energy, prices will continue to rise, and our environment will continue to be polluted. High energy prices and polluted air pose threats to American jobs and our health. We can choose another path, however. Unlike some issues we debate in Washington, there are some relatively clear solutions to our energy problems - solutions driven by advances in science and technology, American ingenuity and a healthy dose of common sense. President Bush has repeatedly challenged Congress to enact a comprehensive energy policy. Despite the best efforts of Energy Committee Chairman Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and others, we have so far failed to act. Both energy and clean air legislation have been bogged down in the Senate. Looking ahead to this Congress, I intend to work hard with my colleagues to enact bipartisan clean energy legislation. Clean energy and clean air are absolutely linked, and so I intend to continue to be active in the clean air debate. The Department of Energy has a critical role in providing leadership on energy and environmental policy. As Energy Secretary, I hope that Dr. Bodman will: 1. Actively support our national laboratories. According to the National Academy of Sciences, nearly half of our nation's economic growth since World War II can be attributed to advances in science and technology. We cannot take our leadership role in this area for granted; our best secret weapons for job-growth are our national laboratories, university and industry research institutions. We must continue to invest in research that fuels technological advances at institutions such as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. This means increasing fundamental research in the physical sciences leading to next generation materials such as superconductors capable of carrying considerably more electricity with less loss. Energy legislation approved in both the House and Senate last year contained language to authorize a doubling in funding for the Department of Energy's Office of Science. Supporting national labs also means investing in clean energy technologies such as hydrogen and fusion energy and establishing world-class computational tools capable of modeling such diverse things as molecular interactions and global climate change. To that end, in 2004 the president signed legislation authorizing DOE to pursue "Leadership Computing in the Department of Energy." With bipartisan support, Congress appropriated additional funds in both FY-2004 and FY-2005 to fund this project. The department should also continue to develop and operate world-class user facilities such as the Spallation Neutron Source, a facility which lays the foundation for the long-articulated but elusive dream of creating "materials by design" - creating a new form of metal or plastic, for example, for some specific purpose. 2. Actively advocate nuclear energy and practical solutions to nuclear waste storage. Nuclear power plants generate 20 percent of the nation's electricity but nearly 70 percent of the "emissions-free" electricity produced annually in this country. I am proud, as the chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Congressional Caucus, that TVA is leading the way by restarting the Browns Ferry nuclear plant. In 2007, it will become the first new nuclear plant to come on-line in decades. TVA and other utilities should also be encouraged to develop advanced nuclear plants. We need to create the right policy environment so they can do so. On the issue of nuclear waste, DOE needs to take a clear position on the future of Yucca Mountain and stand behind it. TVA ratepayers have paid almost $700 million into Yucca Mountain with no tangible return to date. This is equivalent to a 2-year rate increase of 8 percent  the same as the highly controversial TVA 2003 rate hike. Put another way, $700 million is just under the cost of installing clean air technology at Kingston and Bull Run, the two TVA coal-fired plants closest to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 3. Support national policies that promote coal, but require coal plants to quickly install emissions control technology or utilize technologies such as coal gasification. In the coming months, DOE has a critical role in the interagency review of the administration's clean air programs. While I support the President's framework for clean air, I support initiatives that go farther, faster than President Bush's plan. The vast majority of our state is in non-attainment with federal air quality standards, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most polluted national park in the country. DOE has a clear choice: to encourage that the proposed Clean Air Interstate Rule be strengthened, weakened or remain the same. While legislation is the best answer and is being pursued by the Senate, I strongly encourage DOE to strengthen the Clean Air Interstate Rule as it goes through the interagency review process. The nation also needs coal gasification to be commercialized as soon as possible. In addition to cleaning our own air, once commercialized, it can be deployed in other developing nations with growing energy demands such as China. DOE has a critical role in helping to bring this technology to the world marketplace. Polluted air is the problem; clean energy is the solution. 4. Provide leadership on the natural gas crisis  so manufacturing jobs stay here in the U.S. In October 2004, I convened a roundtable of the largest employers in Tennessee representing about 750,000 Tennessee jobs - farmers, chemical companies, the automobile and hotel industries, and our universities - to discuss their growing concern about natural gas prices. During the last four years, U.S. natural gas prices have gone from the lowest in the industrialized world to the highest. Our farms and large industries were built to operate on $2 to $3 mmBtu natural gas prices. Today's price of $6.50 shutters barns and could ship 1 million jobs in the chemical industry overseas. As a result, I intend to be very active legislatively on this issue. Addressing high natural gas prices is important to keeping our industries competitive so that manufacturing jobs stay in the United States. DOE and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should quickly license the new pipeline proposal from Alaska, support new and improved liquid natural gas and pipeline infrastructure and urge greater conservation of natural gas at home. DOE can help encourage a balanced discussion on natural gas supply issues. Those are four priorities I hope Dr. Bodman will take on as Energy Secretary. We've found ourselves stalled at this energy crossroads for some time now. Getting America through it will require strong leadership. Once confirmed, I look forward to working with Dr. Bodman as he takes on these critical challenges.