Reinvent Federal Energy Policy, Too

IN late January, four months after he announced with great fanfare his proposal to ``reinvent government,'' President Clinton will announce his federal energy budget for fiscal year 1995.

He should seize this opportunity to reinvent federal energy policies by dramatically shifting federal research dollars away from polluting sources of energy such as nuclear power, coal, and oil toward energy efficiency and clean, renewable sources.

The United States relies on nuclear power and fossil fuels for more than 90 percent of its energy. Energy use and production is the nation's largest source of pollution. Acid rain, oil spills, smog, radioactive waste, and global warming are but a few of the environmental problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels and use of nuclear power.

Energy waste and reliance on foreign oil place an economic as well as an environmental burden on the country. For example, in 1992 alone the US spent $45 billion on foreign oil. This figure represents half of our trade deficit, which drains away economic growth and job opportunities here at home. Moreover, our chief economic competitors, Japan and Germany, are twice as energy-efficient as we are.

To curb energy-related environmental devastation and stimulate economic growth, Mr. Clinton and Congress must dramatically shift US energy priorities. National polls consistently show that Americans overwhelmingly favor federal spending for research on energy efficiency and renewable resources of energy over nuclear power and fossil fuels. Yet nuclear power and fossil fuels have historically gobbled up more than 80 percent of federal spending on energy research.

These polluting energy industries receive other government subsidies, such as tax breaks for the fossil fuels extraction, taxpayer-funded cleanup of some nuclear waste, and liability insurance for the nuclear power industry. The Alliance to Save Energy estimates that total federal subsidies for these industries cost taxpayers up to $32 billion in 1989 alone.

CLEARLY, a major shift toward energy efficiency and clean, renewable sources of energy will incur the wrath of the traditional recipients of the government's largess. Wasteful federal programs have been difficult to eliminate.

Programs such as the Department of Energy's nuclear breeder reactor continue to drain the nation's limited energy-research dollars. Congress first terminated this program in 1983, eliminating funding for the Clinch River Breeder Reactor, which had been justified as an energy source for the future despite dismal economics and project cost estimates that rose eleven-fold over original estimates.

The program was reincarnated as the ``Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor'' (ALMR) program, and DOE has spent another $1.3 billion in taxpayer dollars on it since 1986. Last June, citing economic, environmental, and nuclear weapons proliferation concerns, the House voted 272-146 to eliminate the ALMR. The program narrowly escaped termination in the Senate and will cost taxpayers over $140 million in 1994.

As Congress adjourned last November, a bipartisan group of representatives, led by House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Phil Sharp, introduced a resolution which sets ambitious new energy goals for the nation. Mr. Sharp's proposal would increase energy efficiency and use of renewable energy resources and shift $1 billion in federal energy research spending toward these sources, while reducing the overall DOE budget.

These goals will go unrealized unless the president and the Congress fight for federal energy policies that will lead to clean, efficient production and use of energy. Reinventing government should include ending the wasteful, polluting programs that will otherwise perpetuate the environmental and economic burdens caused by current national energy policies. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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