It’s an election season and while it’s unlikely that we’ll see any new energy bills this year, we can still look to see what’s on the table for next year. There is talk of more costly global warming legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. For the first time in a long while, however, there are reasons to be encouraged when it comes to energy policy.

1.) We have energy freedom. The Congressional restrictions on energy leasing in 85 percent of America’s territorial waters, which have been renewed annually since 1982, were allowed to lapse this year. They expired on September 30th, and since overlapping White House restrictions were rescinded by President Bush a few months ago, nearly all of our federally controlled waters are now open for energy leasing.

2.) The tide has turned on nuclear power. There is overwhelming public support; state officials recognize the jobs, revenue and cheap, clean electricity nuclear brings; 23 applications for new nuclear plants have been submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for approval.

That being said, for both of these issues we can hop on the fast track. For oil, natural gas and oil shale exploration, fast tracking the leasing process would ensure these resources can actually reach the market in a reasonable time frame. As Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips says,

Increasing energy exploration will lower prices and create jobs at a time when our economy needs it badly. We’re calling on the presidential candidates and all federal lawmakers to go on the record in their support for fast-tracking government leases for energy exploration.”

For instance, Senator Jim DeMint’s Drill Now Act would permanently end bans on offshore resources and oil shale, fast track the leasing project, and expedite judicial review to make sure these leasing projects are tied up in litigation from environmental activists.

We can also fast track getting new nuclear power plants up and running in the United States. Currently the process unnecessarily takes four years or longer to run through the permitting process before construction can even begin. To expedite this process, Heritage nuclear expert Jack Spencer has outlined a fast-tracking program that would cut those four years down to two. Here’s how:

• Focusing NRC Resources. Per congressional direction, the NRC should focus its resources on permitting designated fast-track applications as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety or quality assurance.

• Mobilizing National Laboratory Capabilities. Although the NRC already uses the national labs to support their activities, the national labs should be compelled by Congress to organize themselves to support the fast-track applications.

• Focus University Funding Around Supporting the Effort. The Department of Energy funds programs that support nuclear education in the university system. These programs should be focused on supporting the NRC’s fast-track program. This would not only provide additional resources to fast-tracking permits but would also develop a workforce with the technical expertise to design and operate America’s reactors.

• Ensuring a Science- and Technical-Based Assessment. The NRC must have the freedom to pursue a transparent, fact-based process in a non-adversarial environment. While inputs from local stakeholders must be accommodated, the NRC must be allowed to make decisions based on good science and engineering in a timely manner. This requires an efficient process that allows legitimate concerns to be heard and resolved without being hijacked by outside, agenda-driven interests.

The 111th Congress will have important choices to make in 2009. The question is: will they take steps backward like they did with the Energy Policy Act of 2007 or will they move forward to provide Americans with affordable energy?