Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who will be the new chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the next Congress, is formulating his agenda, but a central theme will be to help the U.S. move toward a low-carbon economy, a spokesman says.

Keith Chu, a Wyden aide, says the incoming chairman "believes that investment in natural gas and in next-generation nuclear technologies should be part of that low-carbon energy portfolio."


Wyden thinks some types of renewable energy, such as hydropower, geothermal and biomass, have "gotten short shrift" and that more can be done to encourage them. Wyden also wants to see whether the Dept. of Energy loan guarantee program should be restructured to protect taxpayers' funds and still assist renewables.

Nuclear-energy advocates hope that Wyden revives a legislative effort to provide a more consensual process for siting nuclear-waste facilities and creating an organization outside the Energy Dept. to oversee how nuclear waste is managed. Marv Fertel, Nuclear Energy Institute president and CEO, told reporters, "I can't guarantee we'll see it get passed, but I think we'll see activity on both sides of the Congress to try and deal with the [Blue Ribbon Commission for American's Nuclear Future's] recommendations."

Wyden will succeed retiring Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) as committee chairman. Energy industry officials say Wyden, like Bingaman, is likely to work with the panel's top Republican, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), to craft bipartisan legislation. "I don't think you'll see a dramatic, 180-degree turn," says Karl Gawell, Geothermal Energy Association executive director. He says Wyden's style "is very much in the mold of Jeff Bingaman—he tries to build consensus. They're both western Democrats with ties to the environmental and renewable communities."

Still, with partisanship widespread in Congress, Gawell says, "It will be a question of what [Wyden] can get done. … I think he is a pragmatist … and he wants to make sure that if he's going to put his time and effort into something, it stands a chance of getting passage."