Infinite Energy Magazine
A Report from Capitol Hill
From January 9 to February 14, 2007, I worked in Washington, D.C. on behalf of the New Energy Movement (NEM) to educate Congressional aides about the realities of new energy R&D and our legislative initiative to increase support for the field. I brought to this task years of experience in public policy-making, which included serving as a legislative aide for former Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, one of the early pioneers in the environmental movement. What follows is my report on what occurred, what was and was not achieved, and what needs to be done in the future.
First, a few words of introduction to set the background and context for the trip. For some time it has been clear to all working in the new energy field that progress has been impeded by the lack of capital from both private and public sources. There has been an ongoing effort to raise private capital. To launch a public initiative, the leadership of NEM, working with other leaders in the new energy field, drafted the Energy Innovation Act of 2007 (see IE #71 and www.newenergymovement.org), which sets up an Office of Energy Innovation with a mandate to provide grants and loan guarantees to new energy scientists and inventors. The bill provided for a citizen review process to ensure that the intent of the proposed law was fully achieved.
I was assisted in this work by a number of NEM’s scientific advisors, including board member Dr. Tom Valone, President of Integrity Research Institute and convener of two pioneering future energy conferences, and two authorities on cold fusion research, Dr. Scott Chubb, an editor at Infinite Energy, and Dr. David Nagel, an engineering professor at George Washington University who once headed a cold fusion research program conducted by the Naval Research Laboratory. I also received invaluable assistance from Joel Garbon, NEM President, and Eleanor LeCain, a veteran consultant in Washington, D.C.
Briefings were provided to legislative aides working for the following members of Congress or Congressional Committees:
—Senators: Barbara Boxer, Maria Cantwell, Orrin Hatch, John McCain, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Gordon Smith, Ron Wyden
—Representatives: David Wu
—Committees: House Committee on Science and Technology, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works
In addition, background papers were distributed to aides who could not attend the group briefing sponsored by the Senate Environment Committee. These aides worked for Representatives Pelosi, Inslee, and Bartlett and Senators Domenici and Lautenberg.
The typical briefing included a brief introduction to the New Energy Movement by me followed by PowerPoint presentations on global warming and new energy innovations by Tom Valone and on the history and current status of cold fusion research by Scott Chubb.
Joel Garbon and I had in-depth conversations about the NEM legislative proposal with legislative aides working for Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Senator Maria Cantwell. We also had one meeting with Congressman Dennis Kucinich. We focused on the need to provide support for research and development for a broad range of unconventional energy technologies.
Although our views were heard, we did not end up with the same perspective on what was needed and the kind of legislation that deserved support. In the case of Congressman Kucinich, he was insistent that the new legislation he wanted to sponsor must be “technology neutral.” By that he meant that it would provide support for the entire range of alternative energy, not just “unconventional” alternative energy.
Senator Maria Cantwell has introduced energy legislation which sets up an Office of Advanced Research (Sec.501) very similar in concept and intent to our proposed Office of Energy Innovation. Amit Ronen, Senator Cantwell’s energy assistant, listened openly and respectfully to our ideas about Sec.501. However, he did not agree with us that the new office should not be placed in the Department of Energy. He also did not reveal which of our ideas, if any, would be incorporated in the final version of Section 501.
To sum up, we were heard by those who help frame the energy laws of our nation, and we laid a foundation for further work on the Hill toward getting new energy a place at the legislative table. Still, very few on the Hill have any knowledge or understanding regarding new energy. Therefore, our major objective in the future should be to advocate more forcefully that spokespeople for our still little-known or understood field be given a chance to be heard at future hearings to be held by Congressional committees dealing with global climate change and energy issues.
I believe that the case for our participation in future hearings was made and heard most successfully in conversations with the staff members at the Senate Environment Committee and the Senate Energy Committee. We need to follow-up with more efforts to reach and educate additional members of Congress and their aides, possibly through events of various kinds (conferences, demonstrations of devices, etc.) we can conduct with allies in the D.C. area.
Some of our colleagues have been arguing we need to attempt to get funding for new energy through “earmarked” appropriations. This would be a quicker way to secure resources than the normal process of legislation. While there is much to be said for this option, currently there is a negative atmosphere in Congress regarding “earmarks,” and more members of Congress are opposed to this traditional “pork barrel” way of money raising. Every legislative aide with whom I discussed earmarking said the likelihood of this being a viable option was near zero.
Of course, “pork” will still be dished out in this and future sessions of Congress. However, the chances of it being used to obtain funding for a completely new program without an established funding location is highly unlikely. Moreover, given the record and attitude of some of the potential locations for such earmarks, such as the Department of Energy, it is not clear how valuable it would be to send earmarked or directed money to agencies whose commitment to spend the money on new energy is so questionable.
Some brief summary impressions: I came to D.C. with no illusions that it would be easy to get proposed legislation on new energy considered by the staffs of our lawmakers. As I originally assumed, it is clear that far too few on the Hill are even aware that potentially viable unconventional energy technologies exist. Even under the best of circumstances, getting any new legislation passed is a challenging task, and the process takes a long time. Given the close divide between Democrats and Republicans, the persistent opposition from the advocates of conventional energy technologies, and the ever present threat of veto from President Bush, the likelihood of major energy legislation being passed this session of Congress is very slim. I don’t expect to see much progress until after a new President is elected in 2008. Given this reality, the friends of new energy can be pleased that the work we have done thus far has paved the way for future Congressional consideration of new energy legislation.
Considering the global energy challenges we are facing, any “rational” government would launch Manhattan or Apollo Project scale projects to find energy technologies to replace our suicidal dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power. There is little indication that this will be done soon. Therefore, we need to push forward in our effort to raise capital and other forms of material support for new energy from the private sector.
Immense private wealth exists in this society. Our task is to find the most imaginative and powerful ways to sound the alarm, demonstrate viable energy options, and enlist private resources to get the job done.