Did the President's third State of the Union address mark a shift in message on energy? In this E&ETV Special Report, members of Congress react to the President's energy proposals. Lawmakers interviewed include: Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas).
Monica Trauzzi: With a call for domestic oil and gas exploration and an all-of-the-above energy policy, did the president's third State of the Union address mark a shift in message? We spoke to lawmakers immediately following the speech for their reactions. Congressman, a big focus of the Energy and Commerce Committee right now is Keystone XL. Does it need to continue to be with the president backing domestic oil and gas exploration so strongly tonight?
Rep. Gregg Harper: It certainly should be and I'm trying to figure out if the president who gave that speech is the same president who just denied the Keystone XL pipeline project. And we talk about affecting families and helping our country. When he came in the office the price of gas was $1.83 a gallon. Now it's $3.38 a gallon. So that means if you put 20 gallons of gas in your car you just paid an extra $30 for that tank of gas. So Keystone XL goes a long ways towards guaranteeing that we're going to be less dependent on Middle Eastern oil. We have Canada, a friendly neighboring country that is something we need to do and if we don't do that, guess what, that oil is going to be sent to China and we're going to have to continue to search. So he can talk about it, but it's time that he does something and that means let's let the Keystone XL pipeline go forward.
Monica Trauzzi: There seems to be this standoff between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to moving any type of legislation this year. Are you willing to work with the Democrats on your committee to actually get some legislation written up?
Rep. Pete Olson: Absolutely, yes, we have. We've been working with the Democrats. The things we passed out of the Energy and Commerce have been bipartisan, except for our attempts to control the regulatory environment, a lot of things coming from EPA, we've had Democrat support. Unfortunately, our biggest challenge isn't within the house, it's on the other side of the Hill. It's the Senate. I mean we sent 27 jobs bills from the United States House over to Harry Reid in the Senate, the majority leader, and they're not moving. So I called the president to do as he challenged us, Mr. President, talk to Senator Reid. Get him to pass those bills. Get him to send them to your desk so you can sign them and go on. Do you want to create jobs right now, thousands of shovel ready jobs? We can do it, just turn us loose, Mr. President.
Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, a big focus on energy tonight. We've heard the president call for energy independence before, was there a shift in tone, a shift in message tonight?
Rep. Paul Tonko: Yeah, I think it was much more aggressive, music to my ears. I'm on the Science, Space and Technology Committee, I have been since I entered Congress, and before that worked at NYSERDA, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. My emphasis has been on the strengths of our region. The congressional district that I represent is a foundation well recognized and documented in the country as one of the fastest-growing hubs for clean energy and high-tech jobs. And so this foundation developed in our region where clustering is taking place as we speak, accepts this news with open arms because it allows for us to build upon that wonderful foundation.
Monica Trauzzi: But his focus tonight was largely on oil and gas and not so much on clean energy. He did mention clean energy, but that wasn't the focus. So don't you see this as a shift?
Chairman Doc Hastings: Well, it is a shift because that's where the American people are. The American people, several years ago, said we don't like four dollar gasoline. The American people said, my gosh, we have all these resources that we're not utilizing, why aren't we? So I think America -- the president clearly is shifting, but I hope it's not political rhetoric. That's my point. We've seen political rhetoric for three years. Now, if we see some real action in other areas, then I will be happy.
Monica Trauzzi: Are Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee willing to work with Democrats and get some legislation written up and move some legislation through the committee like the president talked about tonight?
Rep. Lee Terry: I would love to work with the president. I've written him letters asking us to meet with him so we can talk about the areas of energy that we all agree on, because I like all of the above. I want to use wind and solar and biofuels. I pushed for those. I'm still waiting for a reply to those letters, but I'm fully convinced that if we sat down in our committee we could draft a great, all-of-the-above, comprehensive energy bill that could really create millions of jobs and put us on a road to energy security.
Monica Trauzzi: Is this a shift in tone for the president tonight on energy policy?
Rep. Gene Green: Oh, I think it's a substantial shift. I don't think for the first three years you had heard him say as much as he did about the success of natural gas and I was glad he did it. I think that's a benefit to those of us who come from Texas and from areas that are putting up with the fracking to bring that natural gas to our market and our country.
Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, big focus on energy tonight. We've heard it before, the call for energy independence. What was different this time around about the president's tone and message?
Rep. Don Young: There wasn't as much difference as many people think. Really, the one thing he did say is about 75 percent of the coastal areas will be open now. That's a plus, if the agencies will allow it to occur. Like we've been five years in the Chukchi Sea and because of their actions of the agencies like EPA and the rest of them, there hasn't been any drilling at all. You know, one of the things that bothers me, he keeps referring to the fact there's been more energy produced under his administration, that's not true. That's on private land and it's because of the information we had and developed and the seals that were old. That creates synergy, the surplus we have right now. We are an exporter of energy right now, especially natural gas. We still have a shortage of oil and the high price of gasoline still affects our economy and that's what we have to address. That means we have to build refineries, I didn't hear that, more than we have now. And we have to start using our own domestic oil to lower the price of gas. I mean otherwise it's based upon the European -- I mean the Saudi Arabian countries.
Monica Trauzzi: And just last week the president didn't approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Tonight he's calling for increased domestic oil and gas exploration. Is there a disconnect in the rhetoric?
Rep. Earl Blumenauer: Well, I think not. I mean first of all my Republican friends attempted to jam this through in two months without having an opportunity to deal with the pipeline in a responsible -- remember, it was opposition from a very Republican state that raised real concerns about the -- what the impact that might have on their underground water supply. I mean those are -- that was reasonable and the president said, "No, you're not going to railroad that." That was appropriate. We are in the process now of trying to be able to put the big picture in place and move forward. I think the administration is moving in the right direction and some of us are going to try and look over their shoulder to make sure that it's done right.
Monica Trauzzi: So, the big question is can anything move in Congress this year? Is the energy and commerce committee willing to work on some of these initiatives and move some legislation?
Rep. Bill Cassidy: If the president comes forward with a sincere proposal to increase the number of jobs related to developing our domestic oil and gas, Republicans will be all in. If it is merely a talking point, of course, we'll all be disappointed.
Monica Trauzzi: So, are you not convinced that the president is genuinely shifting his tone?
Rep. Joseph Pitts: Well, I don't know. I hope he is. I mean, if he is, then approve the Keystone pipeline. That's immediate jobs from a friendly nation, Canada, rather than, you know, foreign sources that want to defeat us. Let's match the actions with what he is saying.
Monica Trauzzi: But the nation's energy policy isn't just about Keystone. There are a lot of different elements.
Rep. Joseph Pitts: I agree, yeah. You're exactly right. An all-of-the-above strategy is what we ought to pursue and, you know, I am all for renewables, solar and wind, but sometimes the sun doesn't shine and sometimes the wind doesn't blow. You need redundancy. You need clean coal. You need nuclear. You need, you know, natural gas. You need oil. And we need to be aggressive. We'll work together with him if he's serious about that.
Monica Trauzzi: Clean energy was not the main focus of the speech though.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky: No.
Monica Trauzzi: There was this big focus on oil and gas. Is that something you're comfortable with?
Rep. Jan Schakowsky: Well, he talked a lot about revival. I mean there was a whole list of things that we should do, starting with manufacturing, that we had to bring back manufacturing to the United States. That now we have the number one auto manufacturers, helped by the government to be that, but that we should subsidize, we should help industries that make American jobs right here and get the money, give them tax breaks, get the money from the tax breaks we give to companies who outsource American jobs. I can't see how anyone wouldn't agree with doing that.
Monica Trauzzi: Are you willing to work with Democrats on the committee to get some legislation moved?
Rep. Bob Latta: Well, you know, I serve on Energy and Commerce and, you know, and that's the first part of our name, is energy and we have to make sure that we have energy in this country. And so, you know, we have Democrats on the committee that have joined with us, but at the same time though, we've got to have the administration saying that we will drill, we will go out, but all of these companies that I've talked with say the same thing. We all can work with reasonable regulations, but if you make them overburdensome, that's not going to work then.
Monica Trauzzi: There's such a debate in Congress though on the safety of fracking. Do you think that that's something that can be overcome, especially in such a partisan situation as we're seeing now?
Rep. Michael Burgess: We had the president say that tonight, that he thought it could be done in an environmentally safe manner. Secretary Chu, last spring, during a budgetary hearing in Energy and Commerce, I asked him directly is it safe to frack for natural gas and he said, yes. So, getting those two opinions from the top energy guy in the administration and from the president himself, I'd say that's coming a long way in our direction. Now, Lisa Jackson was sitting right up front and I still don't know that she is convinced, but we'll get there.
Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, big push for energy independence tonight. What did you make of the president's speech?
Rep. Steve Scalise: You know, for those of us who have been pushing really hard for an all-of-the-above energy strategy, I think it was really hollow what the president said, because, unfortunately, his actions have actually contradicted the things he said tonight. You know, so when he talks about using more oil and natural gas, he's actually blocked more exploration of oil. In south Louisiana, we've got thousands of people that still can't go back to work today because of the president's policies, when you look at the EPA threat on hydraulic fracturing, still to this day. And of course last week really highlighted the failure of his policy when he rejected the Keystone pipeline that would've created 20,000 American jobs and made our country less dependent on Middle Eastern oil from these countries who don't like us.
Monica Trauzzi: With the highly politicized climate this election year, it remains to be seen whether the White House and lawmakers can come together on energy policy. From Capitol Hill, I'm Monica Trauzzi.
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