MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- America needs a national energy policy that specifically includes the use of fossil fuels and creates a stable regulatory environment that encourages growth and job creation, executives in the coal, natural gas and electricity industries said Monday.
West Virginia University and Republican U.S. Rep. David McKinley, one of two professional engineers in Congress, co-hosted a forum on the nation's evolving energy picture at WVU's National Research Center for Coal and Energy. McKinley and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said they planned to take what they heard back to fellow legislators in Washington.
"I need to see a plan," said McKinley, an advocate of U.S. energy independence. "You can't build anything in America without a plan."
Manchin said he's optimistic about the possibility of developing an "all-in policy," meaning one that includes a role for every source of energy, "not one overbalancing or overshadowing the other."
But Tony Alexander, chief executive officer of Ohio-based FirstEnergy, argued that's the wrong approach. Trying to include everything, he said, will result in a plan with no direction.
Alexander contends any national policy should focus on domestically produced coal, natural gas and electricity. Oil, which is primarily used for transportation and largely produced overseas, has no place in that plan, he said. Nor do subsidies that give one industry an advantage over another.
"The federal government ... should not pick winners and losers in the energy marketplace," Alexander said. "Subsidies and mandates create inefficiencies, lead to higher prices, assume customers can't make decisions on their own and, more importantly, are a tax on the economy and the people."
Paul Koonce, chief executive of Dominion Virginia Power, said regulatory stability is also a critical component. He called the cost of environmental compliance for a typical U.S. power plant "astronomical," and said utilities need stability to function.
There's no point in debating whether fossil fuels will continue to be used, said Brett Harvey, chief executive officer of Pennsylvania-based Consol Energy. Demand for energy is expected to grow 55 percent in the next two decades. Secondary energy sources such as wind, solar and water all require mechanical means to capture and are inherently "less efficient on the front end."
"We didn't get here by accident," he said. "We got here because we were smart."
India and China aren't looking at phasing out any particular source of energy, Harvey argued, and neither should the U.S.
Environmentalists at the forum also acknowledged that fossil fuels would remain part of the picture for the foreseeable future. But Kit Kennedy of the Natural Resources Defense Council said renewables and energy efficiency programs can create jobs, too.