Middle Path on Energy

One of President Bush's first-term goals was a new national energy policy. But it bogged down over such controversies as drilling for oil in Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Vice President Cheney's industry-heavy task force, and a gasoline additive.

While Washington wrangled, top US foundations funded the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy. Staffed by a diverse group of energy stakeholders, the private panel last week issued balanced recommendations that take on "cherished myths from both right and left," as put by John Rowe, commission cochair and CEO of utility Exelon Corp.

The group recognized, for instance, a "misplaced focus on energy independence." The US will depend on fossil fuels for decades. On the supply side, it suggested encouraging oil production in nations with underdeveloped reserves, and building an Alaska natural gas pipeline. On the demand side, it called for strengthening federal fuel economy standards, and incentives for making and buying hybrids and advanced diesel vehicles.

But it also emphasized cleaner and alternative energy - investment in advanced coal and nuclear technology, for example, and in renewable energy.

The price for this $36 billion, 10-year program could be paid for by tradable permits from mandatory reductions on greenhouse gas emissions. The cost of those cutbacks would be capped - a compromise with industry.

The commission left ANWR alone and couldn't agree on specific fuel efficiency standards. But its middle-of-the-road approach is a template for an urgently needed energy policy that the new Congress must consider.