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At the energy summit

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U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and other high-powered industry and government speakers generated a buzz of voltage at the recent Intermountain Energy Summit in Idaho Falls attended by some 300 participants from 19 states and two Canadian provinces.

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper warned those in attendance midway through the summit that the Shilo Inn where they were meeting might be blacked out after a truck slammed into a power pole in the city. As it turned out, the lights stayed on, but many of those at the energy conference could not help but be bemused by the incident and see the irony.

Casper and Post Register Publisher Roger Plothow were driving forces behind the successful summit, which took 10 months to organize and drew Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, Rep. Mike Simpson, Gov. Butch Otter, Idaho National Engineering Director John Grossenbacher, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Kristine Svinicki and other notables.

Featured speaker Robert Bryce, an energy issues author and journalist, pointed out that while the United States leads the world in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, even if it could cut those greenhouse gases to zero, global CO2 emissions would increase by 7 percent as Third World countries burn more coal to ramp up their economies.

Bryce noted that coal consumption in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia — with populations totaling 400 million — has increased from 2,500 percent to 5,900 percent since 1985.

“They are building their economies on the back of hydrocarbons,” following the examples of the United States, Canada and Europe, Bryce said, adding that China and India also are burning large volumes of fossil fuels to stoke their economic growth.

Calling himself a “resolute agnostic” in regards to the climate change debate, Bryce said he is adamantly in favor of nuclear energy and natural gas, adding “you can’t just wish coal away.”

energy conference

Idaho U.S. Sen. Jim Risch greets Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz at Intermountain Energy Summit.

Calling the United States “the OPEC of coal,” Bryce said America’s coal reserves are the equivalent of 900 billion barrels of oil. By 2018, it is projected that global coal consumption will outstrip global oil consumption. From 1990 to 2010, 800 million people worldwide gained access to electricity via coal. “Coal is here to stay,” he said.

The United States leads the world in oil and gas drilling technology with digital controls, better bits and more sophisticated drilling rigs. More than half of the world’s rigs are in the U.S. “The technological edge in the oil and gas industry is continually pushed out.”

A common concern expressed by several summit participants was the lack of a strong, coherent U.S. national energy policy for many years. Dr. Moniz said the Obama administration is pursuing an “all of the above” approach, highlighting the benefits of nuclear, natural gas, solar and wind options.

The U.S. has invested $6 billion in capturing carbon dioxide, using it to pump 300,000 barrels of oil per day, and an $8 billion loan guarantee program is targeted for fossil fuels that do not generate high carbon dioxide emissions, Moniz said, adding the nation’s increased use of natural gas is responsible for roughly half the U.S. reductions in CO2.

While the United States produces 8.4 million barrels of oil a day and imports have gone down dramatically, the nation still imports seven million barrels per day, the DOE secretary said.

Moniz pointed out that a polar vortex created a propane supply crisis last winter in the Upper Midwest and natural gas prices spiked. Transporting oil by train and infrastructure challenges are other issues that must be addressed, he said.

Crapo said America needs a strong energy policy, and an opportunity exists to craft one. “We sit in the middle of the richest part of North America’s resources,” he said. Risch noted that he and Crapo vote together more often than any two senators from other states or 99 percent of the time.

Risch and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., will be hosting a National Lab Day soon on Capitol Hill to highlight the importance and successes of the nation’s laboratories, such as INL. Fortifying and protecting the nation’s electrical grid system from terrorist attacks needs to be a top priority, Risch warned.

Simpson chairs the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Committee on which he has sat for 12 years. Noting he has served under three presidents and five DOE secretaries his 16 years in Congress, Simpson said the U.S. lacks a coherent, sustainable energy policy. Each new president shifts direction upon assuming office, he noted.

“There has got to be an energy plan not based on the cost of energy today,” Simpson said. “It has got to be based on sustainability and reliability.”

Because of onerous rules and regulations, the United States could not construct an extensive interstate highway system like it did during Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency of the 1950s, Simpson said, praising Moniz’s long term vision as energy secretary.

About 72 percent of the federal budget is mandatory spending while only 28 percent is discretionary spending. “We’ve been trying to balance the federal budget by cutting discretionary spending,” Simpson said, noting Sequestration mandated 50 percent automatic cuts in defense spending, which he called devastating.

DOE competes with the Army Corps of Engineers for funding. About $73 million recently was cut from funding for nuclear energy and shifted to Army Corps projects, which virtually every congressional representative enjoys, Simpson said.

The U.S. Senate has not enacted any appropriations bill, and the federal government’s funding runs on continuing resolutions. “This is not a good way to budget. … My one goal in life is to try to actually complete the appropriations process on time,” he said, noting the last time Congress did that was in 1994.

“The reality is Congress has to have the courage to stand up and address mandatory spending and tax reform,” Simpson said, lamenting that the United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the world and cannot compete in the 21st century.

“We’ve got to have the courage to make the changes to the tax code and entitlement programs if we ever want to get this country back on track.”

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