Energy will be next US president's biggest test, Lugar says

The winner of the 2008 presidential election will need to take unusually bold steps to address energy and climate change problems, despite the absence of substantive discussions from the current campaigns, a prominent US senator declared on Dec. 18.

"Today, I would state unequivocally that energy security and the economic and environmental issues closely associated with it should be the most important topics of the 2008 presidential election," asserted Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the Foreign Relations Committee's ranking minority member, in a speech at the Brookings Institution.

He said that three factors led him to this conclusion: Energy is the issue with the widest gulf between what is required to make the nation secure and what is likely to be achieved under existing programs and congressional proposals. Transformational energy policies probably will be needed to achieve US social and economic aspirations. And energy exacerbates almost every foreign policy issue.

"Only the president has the visibility to elevate a cause to national status, and only the president can leverage the buying power, regulatory authority, and legislative leadership of an administration behind solving a problem that is highly conducive to political procrastination and partisanship," Lugar said.

Core national goal

The next US president will need to make energy security a core national goal and engage all of the American people in the solution, he continued. That person will have to be willing to operate outside his or her party's energy policy orthodoxy. He or she will have to resist popular gestures such as reducing gasoline taxes or tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The next president also must be willing to reject subservience to major energy and environmental lobbying groups without denying the ideas such groups can contribute, Lugar said.

Specifically, he said, the next president should quickly state that the federal government will use all of its power to make competitively priced biofuels available nationwide. He or she also must move beyond the 2007's energy bills higher motor fuel efficiency standards and use every available federal tool, from direct support of research to market regulations and incentives, to commercialize plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Include coal, nuclear

The next president also must initiate a plan to use vast US coal resources by accelerating work on carbon sequestration technologies, and address waste disposal concerns so that providing liability protection and loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants can be considered, Lugar said.

That chief executive also will need to keep bureaucracy or political inertia from delaying initiatives, he continued. Projects related to battery technology, cellulosic ethanol, carbon capture and storage, solar and wind power and other technologies should receive the highest priority, he said.

"The question is whether we will heed abundant warning signs and apply the leadership and political will to deal with this problem in the present rather than suffering grave consequences in the future. Meeting this challenge of statesmanship will be the defining test of the next presidency," Lugar maintained.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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