By David Douglass
A bipartisan delegation of seven legislators recently journeyed to Belgium for a study tour focused on the energy sector.
The tour was funded through a competitive grant awarded by the U.S. Embassy in Belgium to facilitate a Belgian-American subnational legislative exchange program focused on renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy security. This spring, a reciprocal visit by Belgian legislators to the United States will take place.
The goals of the exchange program are to promote knowledge sharing among subnational legislators, foster greater energy diversification in the Belgian regions and American states, improve understanding of each country’s policy-making processes and strengthen bilateral and economic relations.
The delegation was comprised of legislators from the U.S. who are energy policy leaders with an understanding of emerging energy technologies and the challenges involved in modernizing the grid. They included delegation leader Patricia Haddad (speaker pro tempore, D-Mass.), Representative Richard Beck (R-Ark.), Representative Stephen Handy (R-Utah), Senator Katherine Klausmeier (D-Md.), Representative Donald Parsons (R-Ga.), Senator Robert Smith (D-N.J.) and Senator Patricia Spearman (co-majority whip, D-Nev.). The group was accompanied by NCSL Energy Program Director Glen Andersen.
The group spent time in Namur, the capital city of the Wallonia region, as well as Brussels. Belgium is divided into three regions: Wallonia, Flanders and the Brussels-Capital Region. Upon arrival in Brussels, the group met with representatives from the European Parliament, European Commission and European Committee of the Regions. In Namur, the delegation received a briefing from U.S. Ambassador Ronald J. Gidwitz about how the Belgian government institutions interact, the close bilateral relations between the U.S. and Belgium and the challenges confronting Belgium’s energy sector.
The remainder of the week featured multiple substantive working sessions hosted by the Parliament of Wallonia, with government officials, representatives from cutting edge energy industries, academics, and elected leaders from the Belgian House of Representatives and the Brussels Regional Parliament. Discussion topics included the complex interplay when it comes to the distribution of energy responsibilities between European, Belgia, and subnational levels of government; Wallonia’s and the federal government’s strategies for creating a cleaner energy mix; challenges confronting Belgium’s energy transition to renewable energy in light of the federal government’s decision to close nuclear plants within five years; and modern grid innovations.
The trip included several site visits, including a trip to the Coo-Trois-Ponts pumped-storage hydroelectric plant, the largest energy storage project in Europe. On the final day, the delegation visited the Battle of the Bulge war memorial, which was constructed to honor the 20,000 U.S. service members who died there in 1944-45. The group paid its respects by laying a wreath at the war memorial. This year is the 75th anniversary of the battle.
NCSL’s International Program cultivates relationships in many countries to foster educational exchanges and promote the sharing of information between U.S. state legislators and their international counterparts.
David Douglass is a policy specialist in NCSL's International Program.