Monday, June 8, 2009

It has been a tremendous honor and pleasure to serve as co-chair of the Task Force on National Energy Policy and Midwestern Regional Competitiveness. I thank the Chicago Council on Global Affairs for organizing this important effort and for inviting me to be a part of it, and I thank my co-chairs for the remarkable work that they have done. I also thank everyone involved in this project. The Chicago Council pulled together a task force filled with bright and passionate people who brought amazing intelligence and energy to examining this critical issue.

I have been proud to be a part of this work, and I am proud of the report we are releasing today for one very important reason: Climate change is one of the most difficult and important environmental challenges we face. How the United States responds to that challenge is enormously significant to our Midwestern region, our nation, and the world.

From my perspective, two key points emerged from our deliberations.

First, as a region and a nation, we absolutely must address climate change and our future energy security. This means, among other things, reducing our carbon emissions and our dependence on high-carbon energy sources.

Second, while it will not be cheap to reduce carbon emissions, it also does not mean economic ruin. To the contrary, the transition to a low-carbon economy brings tremendous opportunities that are not only environmentally sensible, but also economically beneficial. We are in an era of both necessity and opportunity when it comes to energy and climate. Fortunately, we already have good examples of how we can marshall our assets and move in the right direction.

The Midwest as a region has much at stake. Fact: The Midwest economy as a whole is far more carbon-intensive than the national average. Fact: Most of the ethanol production capacity is here in the Midwest. Fact: Transportation—an industry key to the Midwest economy—accounts for nearly a third of our country’s CO2 emissions. And fact: One in five jobs in the Midwest is dependent on General Motors alone.

We here in the Midwest therefore feel compelled to be part of the national conversation on energy, climate change, and sustainability generally. On the Task Force, we framed our many conversations around the economic realities of our region as well as a sense of urgency to tackle these challenges that are global as much as they are local. There are no simple or single answers to these challenges. They are indeed global—but we have an important role to play. Solutions to these challenges will best come from partnership. And some solutions, especially new technologies, will not be cheap.

Three key areas of focus emerged from our study and analysis, which included a thorough examination of various abatement options and their costs. The three areas were energy efficiency, emissions offsets, and low-carbon supply technologies. For low-carbon supply technologies, there are four major categories: advanced coal with carbon capture and sequestration, nuclear, wind, and biofuels. In our report, we outline numerous recommendations, some requiring federal attention and some that can be dealt with more locally.

Finally, I want to say a few words about my particular interest in the project.

As the Midwest adjusts to the new energy economy, we must utilize our great public research universities—along with other higher education institutions—as one of our region’s greatest strengths. Through their expertise and innovation, we can turn new energy and climate policies to our competitive advantage. How? Well, let me share just a few examples of the contributions that our universities can, and must, make.

New technology is key to addressing climate change and the future of energy. Universities are central to the basic research and development that will discover those technologies and put them into practice. For example, we need university research in new vehicle technologies, including further development of battery technology; new technologies to enhance energy efficiency; electrical grid improvements; and technologies and techniques for carbon capture and sequestration. The latter include capturing carbon from coal-burning power plants, and capturing and sequestering greenhouse gasses through changes in agricultural practices.

Universities also provide research and new ideas beyond technology. For example, they can provide needed research about designing international trade rules and climate policies to limit the adverse competitive consequences of national-level climate policies, and creating verification protocols that will allow agricultural offsets to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

And, of course, universities and other higher education institutions also play a critical role in workforce development. Our colleges and universities are key to providing workers with the training they’ll need in the new energy economy. For example, to grow the burgeoning Midwest wind industry, we need to train technicians, engineers, and researchers. We also need to train people to implement efficiency improvements and energy management upgrades to both new and existing structures. And we need to train people to enforce new efficiency codes and standards, which will be crucial to reducing our reliance on carbon in an economically beneficial way. In addition to research and training, our universities must also themselves set good examples. Many of us are already environmental leaders in our own institutional operations.

Let me share with you just a few specific examples from my own institution, The University of Iowa.

The UI boasts a number of green power and related environmental research initiatives, especially in our College of Engineering.

Our Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering has launched a master’s degree with a focus on wind power management. This program educates professionals in the design, operation, and management of wind farms, as well as their interactions with other alternative and conventional power generation systems.

The College is proud of an 80-year tradition of internationally recognized research in fluid mechanics, air and water resources, and environmental hydraulics through IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering.

We also have a 40-plus-year tradition of pioneering environmental Temp Photo engineering research and teaching, today among the top 10 public academic programs in the country.

Our faculty also are pursuing important individual projects. For example, Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Jerry Schnoor conducts research on groundwater contamination and hazardous waste remediation, carbon sequestration, and global climate change.

Today we are focusing on how partnerships can lead us to stronger regional competitiveness as a new national energy policy emerges. Many of our higher education institutions are ready to play their critical role. I am proud to be from an institution and a state that are not only ready, but already practicing leadership. Iowa is a leader in wind energy production and a key player in the biofuels industry. And, again, I am proud to be a part of this key task force.

Thank you once again to the Chicago Council, to my co-chairs, to the task force members, and to all of you here today for taking an interest in and helping disseminate our work.