Can Congress pass a clean energy standard this year? During today's OnPoint, E&E reporters Sarah Abruzzese and Kate Ling dissect President Obama's State of the Union Speech and preview the energy landscape of the 112th Congress.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today are E&E reporters Sara Abruzzese and Kate Ling. Ladies, thanks for joining me.
Sarah Abruzzese: Thank you for having us.
Kate Ling: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: Sarah, the president's State of the Union speech this week set a new tone on energy and environment issues. How did his remarks sort of set the stage for the 112th Congress and how they might approach energy?
Sarah Abruzzese: Well, he created a much more modest proposal this year. You know, bowing to the fact that the house is controlled by Republicans. He pointed out things that Republicans and Democrats generally do agree on, you know, nuclear energy, clean coal. It will be interesting to see whether the oil subsidies go away as that's something that I'm not quite sure either party would embrace. But the president definitely set a much more modest tone looking for things that they can do together.
Monica Trauzzi: Kate, where do you see this Congress going after the speech?
Kate Ling: Well, it's going to be difficult. As Sarah said, it is a modest tone, but he put clean energy very, very high in the speech and definitely made it a target for him, the Democrats, and the Republicans to work together. So it's one of the bipartisan issues that could potentially work out for them. He also put the debate in a new frame. It's not about global warming anymore, it's about competition, it's about innovation, it's about putting America forward. So it, in a way, maybe mitigates or at least lowers the obstacle that the greenhouse gas emission policy debates sort of was put up, that was put up last year. So it at least puts it in a different place.
Monica Trauzzi: And, Sarah, this fact that he didn't mention climate change is pretty significant. Do you think he left the door open at all for Congress to act on stopping EPA?
Sarah Abruzzese: Well, you know, he didn't say clean energy or global warming. He didn't use those by name, but he kind of talk around it. And as Rockefeller said, you know, he said that Obama did it very skillfully. He said that he's going to, you know, reserve the right to use the regulatory authority that he has. So it might not have been, the name might not have been used, but it was definitely out there. And clean energy, that's global warming and climate change.
Monica Trauzzi: Kate, 80 percent by 2035, clean energy standard, where do you see the biggest hurdles in getting to that point?
Kate Ling: There's quite a few. I think that the target itself is good to put out there. Senator Durbin definitely endorsed the fact that President Obama put the target out there, but energy, in the end, is often a regional issue, not even a partisan issue and they still have to deal with different parts of the United States favoring different types of energy and how to sort of compromise that and negotiate it into any sort of 80 percent target. You also have to deal with the Republicans sort of wanting a much more limited government, cutting government spending and this emphasis on clean energy technology that you need to sort of reach clean coal. You know, and some of the more renewable energy issues in terms of connecting them onto the grid, you need that additional money from the government and Republicans may not go for that. There's also some issues in terms of lower natural gas prices and some competition between renewable energy and nuclear energy and some of the more expensive technologies. So there's going to be a little bit of push and pull in terms of lobbying and where lawmakers come down on that in terms of compromise on a CES.
Monica Trauzzi: Sarah, what were you hearing after the speech from lawmakers? Were they jazzed about this CES proposal?
Sarah Abruzzese: Well, you know, actually I talked to Senator Carper even before the speech and he brought up the clean energy standard as one of the areas that he thought they could find compromise on. You know, whether the White House gets what it wants remains to be seen. And it probably won't and that's actually setting the stage for negotiation and a victory. You know, because even if you don't get exactly what the White House wants, if you get something and move towards that goal, I think it will make both parties happy and be able to come up and say, you know, we were able to compromise. We were able to move forward with this. And so I think a lot of the Senators last night had that kind of same reaction. They embraced it. As Kate was saying, you know, Durbin was really for it and a lot of the other ones said, you know, they were for it, but how far they go will be the question.
Monica Trauzzi: Kate, the president wants to pay for innovation by repealing oil subsidies. What were folks saying about that? Is there any support for that?
Kate Ling: There's definitely support on the Democrat side. President Obama mentioned this last session and they pushed for it and they didn't get anywhere and prospects for getting it done this session are even higher-I mean are lower now because of the House Republicans. They in no way support it. I talked to Representative Levin, ranking member now of Ways and Means Committee, and he acknowledged that it's very much an uphill battle. He's going to work with Chairman Camp, but it's not really, I don't see a path forward in terms of passing it through the house. But maybe there's a little bit of room to compromise on something.
Monica Trauzzi: Sarah, politically, did he play both sides well in this speech?
Sarah Abruzzese: I talked to a lot of people who say he definitely did. You know, it's always hard to say. Right after the speech you get the Republican response that they've crafted without any input of the president's actual speech and so they set a tone that they've thought about for weeks, which often there's a disconnect between the president's speech and their speech. But afterwards Boehner came out with a statement saying that, you know, he thought it was a good speech and other Republicans have said, you know, they're willing to work with him. You know, a lot of people said actually that they were disappointed with one of-you know, with the speech itself and I'm not quite sure whether that had to do with people sitting together. You know, there wasn't that rah-rah atmosphere that we're used to and so, you know, the tone of the chamber was a little bit low-key, I guess.
Monica Trauzzi: Kate, did he hit the mark?
Kate Ling: I agree with Sarah. I think overall reaction in the chamber was a little more mute until the end when he was sort of giving the rah-rah for America. But I think that he definitely put energy on a different sort of platform and, by concentrating on innovation and competition, sort of lets people talk about our energy policy in a different way and maybe not have so many of the past issues sort of on the surface. But, you know, just having that platform doesn't necessarily get rid of the issues that the United States has had all along towards the energy policy and that's just different regional disagreements and sort of government funding, how much should it be? So, we'll see, but I think the House Republicans are going to be the biggest hurdle for this.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, we're going to end it there. Thank you both for coming on the show. Great reporting.
Kate Ling: Thanks.
Sarah Abruzzese: Thanks.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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