With the recent passage of H.R. 1 Energy Legislation (the “Lower Energy Costs Act”), it’s important to remember where our energy production path started in this country. The beginning of the United States coincides nicely with the start of the industrial revolution, and there is no doubt that the success of one helped drive the success of the other. As our country’s economy grew it developed new and better sources of energy, driving a revolution that made life better for all.
In the earliest days, Americans took down trees to build ship masts, to burn for energy, and to turn into charcoal to power furnaces. As the country grew and developed, we switched to coal. Then to petroleum. Then to natural gas. Then nuclear. Today we are adding power from renewables. It is a story of moving confidently into the future, and a story of growth.
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It is also important to note that as we move forward, we continue to use all of our resources. We seldom burn trees for energy today, but we plant them to absorb carbon and combat climate change. About a quarter of our electricity is still generated by burning coal. Petroleum still powers most of our vehicles, even though its use is declining. And we are just at the start of the age of renewables, with solar, wind and nuclear set to grow in the decades ahead.
Of course, in order to build the energy future we want and need, the country needs a good federal energy policy. That was one of the problems during the Carter years: with the price controls and excessive regulation of the 1970s, the federal government was strangling energy expansion instead of encouraging it.
Lawmakers in the House recognize the problems, and recently passed the H.R. 1 energy legislation, a comprehensive package, to improve American energy policy. The measure includes the “BUILDER Act” to update the permitting and review process under the National Environmental Policy Act. It would amend NEPA to reduce timelines and allow for more energy and infrastructure projects. H.R. 1 also includes provisions to reduce regulations on energy production and allow America’s energy sector to grow.
Many are already investing in the future of energy.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Occidental Petroleum “is spending more than $1 billion to build the first in a planned fleet of plants using direct-air capture to pull the CO2 out of the air.” Doing so “will help it reach net-zero emissions on all its operations, its own energy use and its customers’ use of its products, by 2050, and allow it to keep investing in oil extraction.” If this project is successful, it will be a way to have more energy with less CO2.
Nuclear can also deliver reliable, carbon-free energy, and companies are moving forward by building smaller reactors. These small modular reactors (SMRs) can be a key part of our energy future. “Today Kairos, NuScale, Ultra Safe, and X-energy all say they can deploy advanced commercial reactors before the decade is out,” The Atlantic reports. “The space is now rife with contenders: Third Way has identified nearly 150 companies and national labs around the world that are working on small, advanced nuclear reactors.”
Technology must always move forward. The earliest solar power systems were deployed before the turn of the 20th Century and heated water for homes. Today’s solar arrays turn the power of the sun into electricity for the grid.
However, new technology won’t simply appear. Companies need to know they can recoup their investments. Getting the government out of the way by modernizing regulations will allow the years of hard work, experimentation, development, and capital investment that is needed to deliver a bright energy future.
Unfortunately, the U.S. isn’t always at its best. In the years after World War I we opted for isolation instead of leadership, and the planet drifted toward another war. In the late 1970s, the Carter administration warned of endless shortages and advised Americans to learn to live without. Instead, we turned to Ronald Reagan’s free market policies and have enjoyed another two generations of growth. There is no reason that our country’s best days aren’t still to come. H.R. 1 energy legislation is an all-of-the-above energy bill, aimed at delivering the power our country needs in the 21st Century. In a divided Washington, it can be a scaffolding to help lawmakers build a better energy future.