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US energy proposal pushes toward center

From aggressive greenhouse-gas limits to new nuclear plants, independent group tries to bridge divisive issues.

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The effort to craft a comprehensive national energy strategy got a significant nudge this week. After two year's work, the nonpartisan National Commission on Energy Policy, a panel funded by several foundations, issued what's likely to be an influential report addressing all aspects of energy policy: supply, national security, environmental impact, and diplomacy.

Recommendations are laced with incentives as well as regulations that in total are unlikely to completely please anyone - smokestack apologist or solar-powered activist. Still, the commission's middle-of-the-road approach could stimulate movement on the national energy policy, which has stalled over things such as global warming and drilling for oil in Alaska.

Among the major recommendations:

• "Significantly strengthening" vehicle fuel-economy standards while providing $3 billion in consumer and manufacturing incentives to build and buy hybrid and advanced diesel cars and trucks.

• Applying diplomatic pressure to encourage nations with underdeveloped oil reserves to allow foreign investment while also easing US economic sanctions that currently prevent such investment.

• Beginning in 2010, institute a mandatory "cap and trade" program on greenhouse-gas emissions that would reduce such emissions 2.4 percent a year. This rate of reduction is 50 percent more than the Bush administration proposes in its voluntary program.

• Build an Alaska natural gas pipeline.

• Invest $4 billion over the next 10 years in advanced coal technologies.

• Provide $2 billion over the next 10 years to research and develop one or two advanced nuclear power plants.

• Increase federal support for renewable energy technology by $360 million a year.


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