Sen. Ken Salazar told a Steamboat Springs audience Monday the new federal energy bill is a big step forward.
However, he faulted the Bush administration for lacking the leadership to take changes in energy policy even further.
Salazar, a Democrat who won his Senate seat in the November 2004 election, spoke to about 75 people at Centennial Hall. He praised the new energy bill for the incentives it establishes for energy conservation and alternative energy sources. He said the incentives are strong enough to begin to slow and then reverse the widening gap between domestic energy production and demand.
However, he said the original Senate version of the bill, ultimately modified by the House of Representatives and the White House, would have done more in the coming decade to decrease the nation's dependence on foreign energy.
"We don't have the right kind of leadership in Washington. That's my point of view," Salazar said. "If we had courage in Washington, and that includes the president, we could have done more."
Salazar didn't begin his appearance in Steamboat, part of a four-city swing through Northwest Colorado, with criticism of the president. Instead, he set out to celebrate the bipartisan support for the energy bill.
"We've broken through the wall of inaction," Salazar said. "This bill, while not perfect, is a good start as we move forward to address this national crisis.
"The energy bill brought together Republicans and Democrats in a way that seldom happens in Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C., is typified by partisan walls, and that's really not my style. It's a good bill because it's a bipartisan bill. We have a lot more work to do."
Salazar said the driving forces behind the effort to reduce America's dependency on foreign energy are national security, economic strength and the environment.
If America's energy independence were a house, Salazar said, the four corners of its foundation would be conservation efforts, development of renewable energy sources, technological innovation and development of traditional fossil fuels in a responsible way.
Bill Wallace of Steamboat asked Salazar whether the incentives for alternative energy in the bill are sufficient to bring about change and whether they can make it happen soon enough.
"I think it's going to work," Salazar said.
The energy bill offers "huge" incentives for builders to make new homes 50 percent more energy efficient in the form of a $2,000 tax incentive, Salazar said. Similarly, it offers tax incentives of $1.80 a square foot for commercial buildings that meet energy efficiency requirements.
More efficient buildings will reduce the need to build many more power plants, he added.
There also are meaningful incentives in the bill to spur the development of ethanol plants, wind power, biodiesel and solar energy.
The bill also includes $3 billion for the clean coal program, and because Colorado coal is cleaner than coal mined in many other state, that's good for Colorado, Salazar said. There also is $2.8 billion in the bill to provide incentives for clean burning coal power plants.
Salazar said he is disappointed in the insistence by the president and the House of Representatives that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be opened for energy development.
America depends on foreign oil for 62 percent of its needs, Salazar said, and complete development of the oil in ANWR would only reduce that number to 61 percent.
"I believe these special places need to be protected," Salazar said. "But the House very much wants it (to happen), and the president very much wants it. Are we going to win on this one? If I had to guess, I'd say 'probably not.' The politics just aren't there to win."
Towny Anderson of Steam--boat observed that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has called for investment in an energy race that would be the equivalent to the race to the moon in the '60s and '70s.
"Why isn't that getting any traction in Washington?" Anderson asked. "It seems like a disconnect. Why isn't this investment in our future," taking hold?
"A lot of it has to do with the fact the oil lobby has such a strong lobby in the White House," Salazar said. "But this is legislation that makes some positive steps forward."
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