How can the president and his Cabinet effectively lead the way on energy policy and strategy in the United States? During today's OnPoint, former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) discuss the Bipartisan Policy Center's new blueprint on energy, calling for the president to establish a cross-agency energy council. The senators, who are co-chairmen of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Energy Project, also weigh in on how partisanship in Congress may affect the future of energy legislation.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today are Senator Byron Dorgan, former senator from North Dakota, and former U.S. Majority Leader Trent Lott from Mississippi. The senators are co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Energy Project. Thank you both for joining me.
Byron Dorgan: Glad to be with you, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: Senator Lott, BPC has just released a new set of recommendations on how the Executive branch can best organize itself to create a national energy strategy. Is the suggestion there that the president maybe failed a bit in his first term?
Trent Lott: Really, it's not aimed at this president. All presidents have had energy plans, but all presidents also have had their administration with all different parts of it having a little piece of energy policy. The energy department primarily works in the nuclear area. Interior's involved, EPA is involved, agriculture. In fact, Byron Dorgan always points out there's about 20 agencies and departments that have a piece of the energy policy issue. So what we're recommending is that there be a council of all the players in the administration and that they consult with the outside interest groups and policy interest groups, and then also that they do a quadrennial review and make recommendations of what should be the national energy policy. That also will be useful to Congress, where there's also a large split in jurisdiction all over, half a dozen committees at least in the Senate. So what we're recommending is some process to bring all the players together in the administration. Hopefully the administration will do this and that Congress will follow up and implement this in a national energy policy bill. So it's just to try to help recommend to the administration some things that they can do that will help us with national energy policy.
Monica Trauzzi: Senator Dorgan, the way that things have sort've been laid out in this blueprint, the Energy Department would be leading the way. There's been a lot of criticism of the Energy Department recently and some would suggest that they're picking winners and losers when it comes to technologies for energy. How do you avoid those criticisms moving forward, and how do you avoid that criticism from getting in the way of a council like this.
Byron Dorgan: Well, the best way not to stumble is not to move. Much of the criticism I reject. I think the Department of Energy is doing the best it can in a lot of very difficult areas. You know, as Trent indicated, we have some 20 different agencies in the Federal Government trying to help develop energy policy. It's like an orchestra without a conductor. The country needs to decide what does it aspire to achieve in energy, how does it create more energy security and more diverse sources and uses of fuel, more efficiency, more innovation and so on? And then what are the structures by which you do that? So the first part of what we introduced is the structure piece. In January we're going to introduce a much larger set of recommendations that are bipartisan as a result of nearly two years of work. It says here's where we think bipartisan agreement can be reached in Congress on big and significant energy policies that will advance the country's interest.
Monica Trauzzi: And I know there'll be a lot of interest in that. Senator Lott, what specifically about your experiences in office led you to believe that this was the appropriate route for the Executive branch to take?
Trent Lott: Well, first of all, I do think that we have a unique opportunity in that we are doing pretty well in the energy area, with the oil and gas and coal and alternative fuels. We've done a lot of good things, but that is the time when you should act. But my experience in the Senate and as majority leader was that the energy area was one that usually was not partisan; that Republicans and Democrats, while there were disagreements, largely based on regional considerations, we were able to come together several times, including 2005 and 2007 and produce bipartisan bills. This Congress like the last Congress needs some areas where they can produce a product that will be good for the country. This is about the security of America, it's about the economy, it's about jobs. It is a very important area where Congress could get a result on 2013. That's why I thought it was a good time for the Bipartisan Policy Center to put together a group of 18 board members, including business and industry, utilities, coal, gas, oil, nuclear, academics, labor, environmental, all in one room, and talk about some things that we could recommend to the administration and to the Congress. This is something that could be done next year that would be a very positive thing for our country and I think would help the Congress and the administration.
Monica Trauzzi: And Senator Dorgan, you're confident that Congress can overcome its current level of partisanship to move forward on energy policy?
Byron Dorgan: Is that a challenge?
Monica Trauzzi: A lot of people think it's a challenge in this town.
Byron Dorgan: Nobody can be confident of anything. We've been in gridlock for some while, almost everything has become partisan, but there are better ways to do things. The American people I think have said to the Congress, "You know, understand what the interests of the country are and serve those interests, not your partisan political interests." I really think that, you know, some would say, "Well, why now? Why are you talking energy policy now?" because we live in the comfort of a lot of good news about energy. There's an old saying, "Bad news travels halfway around the world before good news gets its shoes on," it's true, all you hear are bad things. There is really good news in energy, production, efficiency and so on. But it's also the case, this is exactly the time, not in crisis, this is exactly the time when you ought to chart a new path to say, "Here's what we aspire to achieve for our country 5 years and 10 years and 25 years from now."
Monica Trauzzi: So specifically then, what policies do you think could actually move? Are we talking about something like a clean energy standard? There was a little traction on that during the last session of Congress.
Trent Lott: If you have an old new national energy policy bill, it would probably include that. They'd have to work through it in committee. There's a lot of redundancy and overlap. The permitting process is not what it should be. Byron always talks about one of the reasons why we don't have more improvements, you know, more electricity grid, is it's just so difficult to get it done. So there are a lot of areas where there will be disagreement. Climate change will certainly come into play. But my argument on that is quit arguing over whether we have it or don't have it or what's causing it, but just ask yourself, "Are there some things we could do that would help clean up the environment that we shouldn't be putting into the air or into the ground?" Sure. So let's work on that.
Byron Dorgan: And everybody's saying these days, "all of the above." I say that, Trent ...
Trent Lott: I've said it.
Byron Dorgan: The president. So let's really manifest that. Let's do all of the above in a really smart way paying attention not only to energy security but also to the impact on the environment.
Monica Trauzzi: How do you each define "all of the above"?
Trent Lott: Well, with me, look, a Republican position, and I'm a classic Republican, I want produce more of everything. I want more oil, more gas, more coal, more hydro, more nuclear. I'm willing to look at alternative fuels and all that. But how we define it is, do the production, improved and more production, but also pay attention to how you can encourage conservation and energy efficiencies, which have saved us a lot of energy, but also alternative fuels. You can't reject the idea that we should look at biodiesel and other things, wind and solar, what do we need to do there? It doesn't necessarily mean we have to give credits or incentives, but what can we do to have a process that makes use of all of the above.
Byron Dorgan: See, I'm a Democrat and Trent's a Republican. His answer really could have been my answer with probably slightly different emphasis. I strongly support a clean energy standard, strongly support some incentives in certain areas to get to some mature technologies able to compete in the marketplace. But "all of the above" really does mean all of the above. Making smart choices in fuel uses and fuel sources.
Trent Lott: One of the things that I emphasize, which has always been an area where Republicans have been supportive is a robust research and development area. We don't do very much in that in the energy area in particular. It's amazing how little industry, let alone government, does in significant research and development. We need to do more there.
Monica Trauzzi: Without some action from Congress, EPA will continue to move forward with its air regulations, so how does that fit into this blueprint.
Trent Lott: Well, that's an incentive for Republicans to step up and work with Democrats and come up with a bipartisan energy plan. Are we just going to leave it all in the hands of EPA? There are a lot of Republicans that don't think too much of that.
Byron Dorgan: And there are some courts that have told the EPA what it needs to do. But the EPA is the regulatory side. If the Congress can pass bipartisan energy legislation that's good for the country and addresses all of these things, I think the EPA is going to be less of a specter here or less of a concern for people.
Trent Lott: One of the difficulties in getting permits and getting more exploration, for instance, is what the law requires or provides in terms of what the agencies and departments could do. They have to comply with the law.
Monica Trauzzi: One final question here. Senator Wyden is expected to take the gavel of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. How are you expecting the tone of that committee to change now that Senator Bingaman is leaving? How will that impact legislation, energy policy?
Byron Dorgan: Well, Senator Bingaman is a good legislator and a friend of ours and we wish him good luck. Ron Wyden is a great senator in my judgment. He's very interested in reaching across the aisle, very interested in working with Republicans, and Lisa Murkowski, by the way, the ranking member, is exactly of the same mind. I think they are two very significant legislators and I hope and believe they could change the tone and they could bring a committee together to write a bipartisan bill.
Trent Lott: And I've talked to Lisa several times about what we're doing at the Bipartisan Policy Center Energy Project and she's been anxious to see what recommendations we come up with. I think she and Ron Wyden will be a good team, I think they'll work together, and I think they can produce legislation. The question is will the leadership in the Senate give them the opportunity to get it to the floor and then will they be able to broaden the bipartisan support beyond just the committee. I think that we have a good opportunity in 2013 to do something in this area.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there. Thank you other for coming on the show.
Senators: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching, we'll see you back here tomorrow.
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