A number of recent statements and actions by key policymakers all point toward tougher legislation on climate change and a host of efforts to address the nation's energy woes. A look at their plans gives a taste of what to expect come January.
Emboldened by President-elect Barack Obama's stance on climate change, policymakers including Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, have made lofty promises to enact legislation that will curb emissions.
Boxer announced last week her plans to introduce two bills in January to combat climate change. One functions as an economic stimulus plan, providing $15 billion for innovations in clean energy, including advanced biofuels.
The other resembles a bill Boxer sponsored during the last Congress, along with Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va. It would establish a cap-and-trade program, placing a limit on carbon emissions and providing shares that businesses could buy and sell that would allow them to emit carbon dioxide.
Boxer said she will work with the new administration in her efforts.
"President-elect Obama told the world … that our country will be an ally in the fight against global warming," she said. "I am here to say that our committee stands ready to be a tireless ally in that effort."
While that's good news for environmentalists, free-market economists aren't too happy, including Robert Bradley, chairman of the Institute for Energy Research, a non-profit organization with free-enterprise ideals.
"I think the opening moves by the Obama administration and in Congress signal that the far left is going to try to use the Obama honeymoon period to get through as much energy interventionism as they can," Bradley told United Press International. "It will add consumer cost, immediately or over time."
Boxer argues just the reverse, pushing clean-energy mandates as a boost for the crumbling economy.
"Clean energy means green jobs," she said. "A new report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors estimates that by 2038, another 4.2 million green jobs could be added to the economy -- thanks to the alternative energy and renewable energy industries."
The House Democratic Caucus also made important decisions regarding energy this week, voting to replace longtime Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., with Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
Many believe Waxman's victory represents strong support for tough climate-change legislation in the House, including Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a non-profit environmental group.
"I've been watching (Waxman) since 1976, and I'd say there's no greater clean air champion," O'Donnell told UPI. "Dingell clearly was pulled by his allegiance to the car industry, and that impeded his ability to pass strong climate change legislation."
Not everyone is excited about the change, though. Waxman's appointment is an omen of high energy prices ahead, said Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a public policy organization dedicated to limited government.
"This should provide a loud wakeup call to American business leaders that the 111th Congress is not going to play nicely with them on energy rationing policies," Ebell said. "Chairman Waxman, who represents Beverly Hills, introduced a cap-and-trade bill in this Congress … that would dramatically raise energy prices for American consumers and producers."
Although not everyone agrees on the solutions, it's clear the challenges facing the next Congress are significant.
The challenges related to energy fall into six categories, said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.
The No. 1 goal of his committee, Bingaman said in a speech last week, will be deploying clean-energy technology, particularly in the electricity sector. In order to do that, the first priority lies in establishing a renewable portfolio standard, which would mandate that a specified percentage of all U.S. electricity come from renewable energy sources, Bingaman said.
"A national renewable electricity standard will enhance the diversity of domestic electricity generation … and start preparing our electricity sector for the inevitable requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," he said.
A renewable portfolio standard won't be enough, though; a new electricity grid will also be necessary to meet Bingaman's goal of deploying clean energy.
A number of experts agree that's essential, including Linda Stuntz, former deputy secretary at the Department of Energy. While developing new renewable energy is important, if it can't get to consumers, it doesn't help, Stuntz said.
"It's not going to be easy to get wind power from generation to where people live," she said. "Less than 7 percent of the country's population live in the Top 10 states for wind power generation."
A new grid would help solve this problem for wind as well as a number of other renewable energy options, she said.
In his speech, Bingaman highlighted five other challenges he plans to work on in the next session: improving energy efficiency, maintaining adequate supplies of conventional fuels, increasing energy innovation, making energy markets more transparent and maintaining balance between energy and environment policies.