We were formed 15 months ago as part of the US Chamber of Commerce with a mission to build a consensus on a national energy policy and help educate the American people about the importance of becoming more engaged in the energy debate. Tom Donahue, the President and CEO of the US Chamber, foresaw that energy would be the biggest challenge facing not only this country, but also countries around the world and wanted the Chamber and its members to become more directly involved.
The Chamber is ideally positioned to directly engage the lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Describe the origins of the Open Letter to the President.
We spent a year talking to people and studying the issues and ultimately decided that the best forum for publishing this information would be an open letter to the President. It’s short, easy to read, focused, and is directed at the 44th President, and the 111th Congress, the people who be leading us in 2009.
It has proven to be a very effective means of communication to target the American people and also the next administration.
Have there been any criticisms of the letter?
As with any issue this big where you will have so many different interest groups, people are always going to find something to pick at. Some don’t think that we should expand domestic exploration of offshore oil and gas; we advocate for this in our letter. Others oppose any expansion of nuclear energy.
We have had thousands of visitors to our website and had articles written about us in over 75 newspapers and magazines. The vast majority embrace the 13 pillars that are in the letter.
What are a couple of the key flaws in this country’s energy policy over the past several decades?
We lack a long-term coherent energy policy; our approach to energy policy has been sporadic, inconsistent and fragmented.
Back in the early 1970’s when we were hit with the first oil embargo, the United States imported 30% of its oil. President Nixon set a goal of energy independence by the end of the decade. Today we import almost 70% of our oil. This issue has been around for decades and we don’t seem to have made much progress.
Briefly describe the 13 pillars and why you chose this approach.
There is nothing magical about the number 13 and we did not have a particular number in mind when we started out. In fact, we had 12 pillars at our first draft. We are confident that all of the different areas that need to be addressed are encompassed in these pillars.
One of the pillars emphasizes the need for the United States to take on more of a global leadership role in energy; you can’t exert global influence until you have your own house in order. If we follow these recommendations, the United States can become part of the worldwide solution to energy rather than being perceived as part of the problem.
What are the next steps for the Institute?
The open letter is the first in a trilogy of documents that we are publishing. This week we are releasing a document, the Blueprint, which will outline in more detail of each of the 13 areas and make specific recommendations about the next steps.
The third document that will be published after the election will outline a Transition Plan with a focus on the Legislative and Executive branches of government.
Of the thirteen pillars, which 3 in your opinion are the most critical?
We strongly believe that all of the pillars are critical if we are to transform the energy sector.
That said, I think there are possibly three interesting areas that hold a lot of promise for the future and that will dramatically impact our energy situation.
Efficiency. The greatest source of new energy is the energy we waste. Getting individual consumers to improve their energy efficiency can help us make some quick progress in the short-term.
R&D and Technology. This is the cornerstone of all energy policy. We are spending about half of what we did in the 1970’s to seek out new technologies for energy.
Renewables. Alternative fuels hold a great promise for the future.
I can’t stress enough the importance of a comprehensive approach to our energy problems. All of the 13 pillars are in the open letter for a reason. We can’t cherry pick one particular area and hope to be successful.
What are your short and long-term goals with this program? How will you measure your success?
The best case scenario for us is that the next President and Administration adopt an energy policy that mirrors this open letter.
Five years from now, let’s hope that we look at the metrics and we find that we have reduced our dependency on foreign oil.
Five years from now, let’s hope that we have licensed additional nuclear power plants and that they are well into their construction phases.
Let’s hope that five years, more of us will be driving plug in hybrid cars.
How can we help here in Columbia, SC.?
There are four levels that the people of Columbia can help out.
At the consumer level, every individual needs to become more aware of what they can do in their own homes and with their own cars to improve efficiency.
Businesses can also take steps to become more energy efficient and thereby reduce their costs.
The community can become more engaged in the energy debate. The US Chamber of Commerce is willing to facilitate panel discussions on energy or provide information to groups willing to become more involved at the local level.
Lastly, people can engage their elected officials and make their Congressmen, State Senators, and House Representatives accountable for energy policy.
How will the financial situation in the country affect your initiatives?
At the consumer level, the financial crisis is going to affect everybody. It will cause consumers to rethink their habitual use of energy. That’s a good thing.
Our concern is that the financial situation will affect the availability of funds to invest into R&D and into energy infrastructure.
Is energy the most important issue facing this country?
I think it’s certainly in the top three, but it wasn’t really until gas hit $4 a gallon that the energy moved to the forefront of the national agenda. If you think back to the Presidential primaries and the debates of 8 months ago, you could count on one hand the number of times that they discussed energy.
The financial crisis is probably the number one issue right now. Health care is certainly right up there at the top of the list. The war in Iraq has also been high on the list.
We all need to make sure that it is at the top of the agenda of the next President and Congress. Think of where we would be if we had addressed these issu
es thirty years ago during the first energy crisis. We just can’t pass on this opportunity again.
Frederick C. Smith, vice president of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, is responsible for the management of its programs, operations, and initiatives. Established under the auspices of the the U.S. Chamber , the Energy Institute addresses the country’s energy challenges by supporting an education program that advances public understanding of key energy isues.
Prior to joining the Energy Institute in May 2007, Smith had more than 30 years of senior management experience in business and in the U.S. government.
For more information and to find out how you can help, visit www.energyxii.com