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Why Energy Matters

Energy is the linchpin of our economy. In physics, energy is the ability to perform work, and there is little useful work that does not depend on a reliable and affordable energy supply. We use energy to power our factories, refrigerate our medicines, light our schools, and transport our food. What we want from energy are the services it provides—heat, light, refrigeration— irrespective of the resources we use to generate them. However, energy production, transport, and use exposes us to serious environmental threats, national security challenges, and economic crises that have become increasingly evident over the years. Using innovative technologies and greater efficiency, the U.S., and the world, can provide these services with greater benefits to national security, economic growth, public health and the environment. The U.S. has the most dynamic economy in the world, yet its energy infrastructure is aging, and other countries are capitalizing on renewable energy technologies that were first developed in America. The coupling of climate and national security threats creates an urgency to find alternatives to conventional fossil fuel use.

 The good news is that there are solutions at hand to transition the U.S. into a new era of clean energy and smarter energy policy.

By improving energy efficiency, the U.S. can not only help save consumers money, but also create jobs while reducing environmental impacts and future energy demand. By investing in renewable technologies and modernizing the electric power grid, we can improve the security and reliability of our energy supply and combat climate change. By developing and using alternative fuels, we can reduce our dependence on oil and protect public health.

In order to do this, we need to change the rules that currently dominate our energy sector. Right now, most utilities make money by selling, not saving, energy. Carbon-intensive fuels are not held to account for the global warming pollution they create. The transportation sector is dependent on a single source of fuel, which leaves us vulnerable to price spikes and geopolitical upheavals. Government support for renewable energy and efficiency is provided through unpredictable short-term incentives, while subsidies for fossil energy are permanent and continue to tilt markets toward carbon emissions. We need comprehensive energy policy that integrates climate and security concerns.

Learn more about how the Energy Future Coalition is leading the way to change the rules:

  • Economic Growth & Jobs
  • Climate Stabilization
  • Security
  • Public Health

Economic Growth & Jobs

During the economic recovery from the financial crisis of 2008, energy consumption has stayed roughly constant while GDP and employment have grown. In economic terms, this means our energy productivity has improved. Much of this has to do with renewable and efficiency policies at the national and state levels that have driven cost-effective efficiency investments and growth in the clean energy sector. Development of our clean energy industry has led to the employment of a significant and growing number of Americans: Roughly 1.75 million jobs are now found in the energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors (Source: EESI).

As the costs of solar and wind installations continue their dramatic decline, thanks to advancing technology, best practices, and economies of scale, so too will the costs to consumers. And as our electricity infrastructure becomes increasingly interconnected through interstate high-voltage transmission, we will unlock system efficiencies that offer further economies as well as greater reliability and resiliency.

Obstacles remain, however: Policy uncertainty surrounding incentives for clean energy manufacturing and development, as well as the abundance of cheap fossil fuels from shale resources, have limited the deployment of capital that would allow the U.S. to maximize the job creation and economic opportunity of a clean energy future. The United States is no longer the world leader in global clean energy investment, surpassed by China. Political opposition to climate change mitigation has led to hostility to policies favoring renewable energy and even energy efficiency. The success of hydraulic fracturing, meanwhile, has led to a massive increase of natural gas (as well as oil) from shale, offering a major competitive cost advantage to the U.S. and providing a cheaper and cleaner fuel for electricity generation than the coal which has dominated for so long. That makes it harder to move to non-carbon fuels.

The Energy Future Coalition engages these issues and their stakeholders. Across our initiatives, we seek to support a clean energy economy – through energy efficiency advocacy with our Rebuilding America coalition; performance-based ratemaking, distributed generation, and utility efficiency programs through our Utility 2.0 initiative; and enhancing the transmission network through Americans for a Clean Energy Grid. Reducing the trade deficit through energy independence is one outcome of our efforts to replace aromatic hydrocarbons in gasoline with higher-performing, cleaner, and healthier biofuel  blends. EPA’s Clean Power Plan and higher fuel economy standards combine to offer an ambitious start towards the U.S. goals for greenhouse gas reduction, but not enough to meet the ultimate target of 80% reduction by 2050, and face strong national opposition to boot. The Energy Future Coalition is therefore exploring other pathways, including the possibility of a revenue-neutral tax swap that would put a price on carbon.

Creating a healthier, more resilient and more affordable energy system can drive economic growth for the U.S. Learn more about how the Energy Future Coalition is supporting policies to reach this goal.

The United States can be a global leader as the world increasingly moves to cleaner forms of energy – especially more efficient and renewable energy. This transformation gives hope that we can minimize and perhaps even avoid the worst impacts of climate change brought on by the use of coal, oil, and gas and by the destruction of forests and protect the natural world that sustains us all.

The threat is real. In 2014 the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – which gathers hundreds of scientists around the world to review and assess the published research, concluded, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.” With 95% certainty, these scientists attribute the changes to human activity.

The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since modern recordkeeping began in 1880, according to two analyses by government scientists in the U.S. and another in Japan, and we are already seeing and feeling the effects – in the form of rising sea levels and more extreme weather, heat waves, wildfires, and storms. These changes could lead to devastating effects on humanity and will only worsen if left unchecked.

Energy is the source of much of the problem and potentially much of the solution as well. Globally, fossil fuel use accounts for approximately 80 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions that heat Earth’s atmosphere. In the United States, fossil fuels contribute a similar share. Other major greenhouse agents such as methane and black carbon are also integrally tied to energy production and use.

New ideas, investments and innovations are spurring a global transformation of energy systems to reduce their carbon pollution. The costs of action are small compared to the costs of not acting. Indeed, new reports indicate that low-carbon pathways will either be economically beneficial or would result in minor additional costs over the status quo. Because of the long-term nature of investments that lie at the heart of climate change (in power, buildings, transportation), the actions we take in the next 10 to 20 years will be critical.

Clean technologies represent a rapidly growing domestic industry worth billions of dollars, and they are competing in a very serious way with traditional forms of energy on cost. But the longer we wait to make this fundamental shift in our economy, the greater the costs become.

Learn more about how the Energy Future Coalition is working to apply practical policies and readily available technologies to seize the opportunity to reshape our energy system.

For 40 years, since the OPEC embargo of 1973, the U.S. has attempted to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. High prices and stronger fuel economy standards led to progress in the 1980s, but those gains were short-lived. Recently, however, U.S. oil production ended its long decline and turned dramatically upward. Technological advances such as 3D seismic imagery, directional and horizontal drilling, and hydrofracturing have tapped into tremendous reserves of tight oil and natural gas from shale rock formations. Meanwhile, as they had 25 years before, more efficient vehicles and high gasoline prices decreased domestic demand. As a result, the percentage of U.S. oil imported has fallen from a high of 60% in 2005 to 32% as of 2013. In addition, the oil imported from Canada increased in share by 65.8% since 2003, reducing the security risks of our remaining dependence on imports.

But challenges remain. The United States still imports a significant share of oil from regimes in unstable or hostile regional environments such as Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria. In addition, the United States remains integrated with and subject to the whims of a global marketplace for oil that sets the price based on an unpredictable combination of the costs of production, the health of the global economy, the demand for fuel, and the political strategies of OPEC nations. In the face of an international oil shock, U.S. oil prices would skyrocket, regardless of how much we are able to produce domestically or import from friendly neighbors. This is a matter of economic security just as much as it is one of national security.

The U.S. must do its part to mitigate these national and economic security risks, and there are readily available solutions. Technologies that improve vehicle efficiency can have a significant impact on both oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. Electrifying our transportation system can increase efficiency and reduce fuel costs. Efforts to develop sustainable fuels from biomass can dramatically reduce our dependence on oil and maintain the level of mobility we now enjoy.

What goes into gasoline directly affects the emissions that come out of the tailpipe. In the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, Congress gave EPA the duty to “promulgate (and from time to time revise)” regulations governing emissions of “hazardous air pollutants from motor vehicles and motor vehicle fuels.” Congress required that these regulations “reflect the greatest degree of emission reduction achievable through the application of technology which will be available.” These hazardous air pollutants include aromatic hydrocarbons which increase octane and currently make up approximately 20%-30% of every gallon of gasoline sold in the United States.

Aromatics are significant contributors to particulate emissions. Particulate matter (PM) comprises extremely small particles that can penetrate blood cells and travel to the body’s organs, with such adverse health effects as increased asthma, respiratory disease, reduced lung development and function in children, cardiovascular disease in adults, and cancer. A recent study led by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, with participation by EPA, estimated that exposure to fine particles originating from aromatic hydrocarbons in gasoline results in approximately 3,800 premature mortalities per year and total social costs of $28.2 billion.

The Energy Future Coalition is pressing EPA to take action on aromatics to protect public health. Fortunately, biofuels can supply the same octane in gasoline as aromatics while reducing particulate pollution. In fact, that cleaner octane may be essential for automakers to increase the efficiency of their engines and meet higher fuel economy standards. Studies show that a mid-level biofuels blend (e.g., 30%) would maximize benefits to air quality and public health, automotive performance, and consumer costs. It would also reduce U.S. dependence on petroleum as its single source of transportation fuel.