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An All-of-the-Above Strategy to Reduce Energy Prices

May 10, 2013
Column

Despite the recent cold weather and snow storms, summer is quickly approaching which likely means higher energy prices.  Nebraskans will not only feel the pain at the gas pump, we could face higher home electric bills, and pay more for just about every product because of higher transportation and production costs.

New American oil and natural gas discoveries combined with new drilling techniques are quickly expanding American energy generation.  This energy revolution holds the potential to dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil, improve our national security, and boost much needed job creation and economic growth.  We must embrace and encourage this revolution.  We also must continue to diversify and grow our energy portfolio with renewable fuels including ethanol and hydropower.

Ethanol plays a major role in diversifying our energy supply and giving consumers a choice when fueling cars, trucks, and other vehicles.  Importantly, we can produce ethanol at plants across our state using Nebraska corn which promotes our energy security and our local economy.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided to allow gasoline to be blended with up to 15 percent ethanol for cars manufactured after 2001.  This decision was not taken lightly, and now we must develop ethanol infrastructure without further burdening producers, retailers, and consumers.  Using market-based measures to remove bureaucratic obstacles and increase competition benefits consumers and lowers prices.

Removing regulatory burdens would also encourage greater use of clean, renewable hydropower, especially for small scale projects.  Very often the cost of permitting small scale hydropower projects exceeds the cost of the project itself. 

To streamline the approval process and make small scale hydropower financially feasible, Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA) and I twice introduced legislation to exempt these projects from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permitting requirements.  FERC regulates the licensing and inspection of private, municipal, and state hydroelectric projects.  Earlier this year, similar language to exempt hydropower projects generating less than five megawatts from the FERC's permitting rules was included in the House passed Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act. 

Last month, the House also passed the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act to except small hydropower projects from additional environmental review when they are placed in canals or water pipelines controlled by the bureau.  According to a Bureau of Reclamation report from March of 2012 on conduit hydropower development, more than 30 irrigation sites in Nebraska contain more than 5,000 kilowatts of potential hydropower development.  I am pleased this idea, which Congressman Costa and I originally put forth, has garnered broad bipartisan support in the House and is finally receiving attention in Senate.

While we work to develop new technologies and expand the use of other renewables including hydropower and ethanol we must continue to utilize all natural resources available to grow our economy.  We will only be able to meet our current and future energy needs if we embrace an all-of-the-above approach.

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