Eight years ago, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., was wrestling with the fact that America did not have a comprehensive energy policy.
“What we’ve had for 30 years which is basically a nuanced version of where everybody gets together and sing Kumbaya and save the environment while we try to avoid $5 a gallon gas,” he told THE WEEKLY STANDARD. “But the problem is that we’ve run out of options.”
Since then, Nunes has spent considerable time and effort trying to provide an option. He’s planning on rolling out the resulting legislation, “A Roadmap for America’s Energy Future,” on Thursday.
The bill is both innovative and audacious. (For a more detailed summary of what’s in the legislation see the PDF at the end.) Nunes’s Roadmap hinges on at least one key insight: advances in energy efficiency are often inextricably linked with energy production.
The U.S. government controls a number of resources that could be used to increase energy production. The legislation would open up the Outer Continental Shelf to offshore drilling -- which is estimated to contain enough oil and natural gas to meet America’s energy needs for about 60 years. It would also open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling as well as encourage domestic energy production elsewhere.
The catch is this: Any profits that the government makes from increased domestic energy production would go into a trust fund for renewable energy sources, as well as new research and development.
And here’s where the Roadmap is especially innovative. Until now, government subsidies for renewable energy have been handed out in a haphazard manner akin to throwing darts at predominantly-Democratic campaign donors.
So Nunes set out to answer his own question: “How do you disperse [subsidies] in a free market way, so you’re not picking winners and losers?” His solution is somewhat ingenious: Money from the newly created trust fund would be handed out in a “reverse auction,” where private sector companies would compete for government energy contracts based on who can produce the most energy for the least amount of money.
Those that participate in the auction would forgo existing tax credits for renewable energy production, and if they can’t fulfill the the terms of the contract, the government keeps the money. The idea has the potential to set off a venture capital bonanza, concomitantly spurring innovation and creating jobs.
The bill also addresses energy production from the infrastructure side. “If you can build clean burning engines and run electric cars, that’s great. But you can’t get to electric cars unless you have cheap electricity, unless you have nuclear power,” Nunes said of the legislation’s nuclear power initiative.
The Roadmap would lead to 200 additional nuclear power plants being built by 2030, creating 140,000 permanent jobs and nearly half a million construction jobs. This means 60 percent of America’s domestic energy production would then be supplied by nuclear power, while at the same time allowing the country to meet and surpass the Obama administration’s ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Unfortunately, the modern environmental movement is either in denial about the need for more domestic energy production or explicitly against it. So it has consistently presented energy policy as a choice between either reduced emissions along with renewables or more domestic energy production from traditional carbon-based sources.
Nunes’s bill assumes that you can have all of the above. If the bill proves appealing to the public, it could put Democrats, who are used to dominating environmental issues in a political bind.
“This is a bill that we can go on offense,” Nunes said. “You have the upper hand and moral high ground because I can build more solar panels and wind mills at the end of the day, which takes more carbon out of the air. And if you go to the nuclear provision, it takes more carbon out of the air by far.”
Of course, the Obama White House is unlikely to embrace the plan. “My guess is that the extreme environmentalists in his administration are too strong and their goal is no energy production,” Nunes said.
But politically it will be tricky to deny legislation that exceeds expectations on the environmental front, even as it puts a spotlight on the fact that Democrats have no serious plan for energy production.
“This creates huge leverage for Republicans and whoever our presidential candidate is and, at the end of the day, it’s good for the country. This is actually a real national energy policy,” Nunes said.
And perhaps the most impressive part of the legislation is that it won’t cost taxpayers a thing. If the name of the legislation -- "A Roadmap for America’s Energy Future" -- sounds similar to Wisconsin Republican and budget hawk Paul Ryan’s much discussed "A Roadmap for America's Future," it’s no accident.
“What we’re saying is that you can do all this is have a national energy policy and not spend any money,” Nunes said. Ryan was involved in helping Nunes shape his bill, and it was important to both men that the bill “score zero” with the Congressional Budget Office.
“The bottom line is that this produces more energy than any plan out there -- including more renewable energy, even solar panels and windmills,” Nunes said. “And on the nuclear side, it would totally transform our economy. I would argue that it would do more for jobs than any legislation out there.”
Republicans who look closely at Nunes’s bill will probably ask themselves, What’s not to like? That might prove to be a difficult question for Democrats to answer.