Before I was elected to Congress, I was a research physicist – which meant, more than anything else, that I studied energy: how it is created, how it is transported, and how we as humans can harness it to run our world.
I served as assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, New Jersey’s largest alternate energy research facility, which is studying how to create clean and near-limitless fusion power. I also designed and patented a “solar pond” that efficiently captures sunlight and stores heat.
No one serving in the Senate today has this kind of nuts-and-bolts expertise in energy science – and it shows. America’s energy policy is broken. We’re giving tens of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the Big Oil companies that are destroying the air we breathe and the water we drink, even as we’re failing to invest in next-generation energy technologies that could create jobs and build the foundation of future prosperity.
America’s power grid – the infrastructure of power generators, transmission lines, and distribution lines that connects each household to electricity – is an outdated relic of the last century. It was designed at a time when power was generated at huge, isolated, and dirty power plants, most of which burned coal, and then transmitted across dozens or hundreds of miles to distant households.
But nowadays, households are no longer passive consumers of electricity. Many thousands of Americans have solar panels on their rooftops, generating enough electricity to power their homes and even to share with their neighbors; the energy grid must be able to accept their contributions. Many forms of renewable energy, including wind and solar power, deliver wildly variable amounts of energy depending upon the weather, requiring a more flexible power grid that can store excess energy or bring new power online as needed. Moreover, today’s aging power grid is fragile, as we’ve seen when minor electrical glitches have caused region-wide blackouts.
In the U.S. House, I helped to establish ARPA-E, the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, modeled after a Defense Department research agency that played a key role in developing the Internet. To jump-start its research, I helped authorize a doubling of ARPA-E’s budget to explore energy breakthroughs, including the creation of a smarter energy grid.
This was only a first step. We must renew this investment in the years ahead. 21st century America cannot succeed on the back of a 20th century power grid.
In 2012, the five largest oil companies pocketed $118 billion in profits. Clearly, these companies are not small, struggling businesses that need a handout from Uncle Sam; they are massively profitable international conglomerates. So it makes no sense that these same oil companies receive tens of billions of dollars in special tax breaks that are not available to any other business in America.
These Big Oil subsidies are a waste of taxpayer dollars, but even worse, they give oil a competitive advantage over the kinds of next-generation energy technologies – such as wind, solar, and biofuel – that we should be supporting.
In Congress, I have fought for legislation that would save taxpayers $40 billion by ending Big Oil giveaways. We should instead devote that money to research and development of alternative energy technologies.
Although Big Oil’s tax subsidies are the most obvious way these companies benefit from American taxpayers, Big Oil also enjoys a range of other special protections and benefits. For instance, Big Oil receives special legal immunity that caps their liability at just $75 million in the event of an offshore oil spill – a fraction of a percent of the real cost of a major spill. I have introduced legislation to repeal the offshore oil spill liability cap once and for all.