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On Capitol Hill, Deutch stresses all-out energy approach

Calls for carbon tax, efficiency improvements, and new agencies
John M. Deutch
John M. Deutch

MIT Institute Professor John Deutch stressed the importance of pursuing every available avenue on energy, in testimony Friday before the U.S. Senate's Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Deutch, who has served in major roles in several administrations including director of energy research under President Carter and undersecretary and deputy secretary of defense as well as director of central intelligence under President Clinton, said "the fact is that the United States has not been, and is not now, on a path to a secure and sustainable energy future." The nation's overall importation and consumption of fossil fuels is projected to go on increasing, he said.

While there are several factors that have prevented the adoption of a sustained national energy policy, he said, the key cause is that "political leaders find it difficult to speak the truth about energy matters." The reality, he said, is that progress will be slow because of the magnitude of the problems.

Deutch offered seven recommendations, and emphasized that these represent not a menu of choices, but a package of actions that are all essential in order to reach a sustainable future.

First, he said, charging for greenhouse gas emissions is essential, whether in the form of a direct carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system. Second, a major 10-year program to demonstrate carbon sequestration is essential to make clean coal a reality. Third, a push is needed to improve the efficiency of energy use in buildings, cars, and appliances.

Fourth, much more research is needed on potential energy solutions. This requires at least a doubling of federal research funding, the creation of a new energy innovation council to develop a multi-year research strategy across all government agencies, and an energy technology corporation to manage demonstration projects, he said.

Fifth, there should be an expansion of domestic oil and gas production, which he said is important to add credibility to US efforts to encourage other nations to increase their production. Sixth, commercial nuclear power should be expanded, although this requires addressing issues of cost, waste management, and nuclear weapons proliferation.

Finally, Deutch said, there must be improvements in the coordination of energy policy across multiple government agencies, by creating an energy coordinating council.

Deutch rejected calls for an energy research program akin to the Apollo program or Manhattan Project. Unlike those focused government programs with very specific, clearly defined objectives, he said, "here, we're talking about having a technology deployed in the real economy, and the issues are much more complex."

After a question and answer period during which each of the 20 senators on the committee expressed their views, Deutch said "I'm impressed that all of you are saying that we need to do 'all of the above'" -- that is, that every possible alternative should be aggressively pursued, as he recommended. Given that support, he then asked, why isn't it happening?

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 17, 2008 (download PDF).

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