With President Obama prioritizing energy and climate change in the first State of the Union address of his second term, will Congress act to move legislation? In this E&ETV Special Report, members of the Senate and House of Representatives react to the president's comments on natural gas, climate change, oil and gas revenues, and energy technology research. Lawmakers interviewed include: Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.); Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.); Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.); Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.); Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas); Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.); Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio); Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas); Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.); and Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.).
Monica Trauzzi: In the first State of the Union address of his second term, President Obama prioritized energy and climate change. But is Congress ready to move legislation. We spoke to lawmakers immediately following the speech for their reactions.
Senator, tonight the president called on Congress to move forward with a market-based, bipartisan approach to climate change, something like the McCain-Lieberman bill that we saw a few years ago. Does something like that have legs, and is that something that you would support?
Sen. John Hoeven: No. The thing is, the presidency is the way to get the energy economy going as more government and more regulation, in fact, that's the problem. We have got to streamline our regulations and empower our regulators to encourage investment by the private sector. That investment will develop new technologies, and those new technologies will produce energy of all kinds, both traditional and renewable, with better environmental stewardship. That way, we not only lead the world in terms of energy production and job creation, they'll adopt our technologies and that better technology will create a better environmental stewardship, not just here but across the world. That's the way to accomplish that very important goal.
Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, energy and climate issues were very high up on the President's speech tonight. Did he lay out a clear enough directive on energy and climate for Congress?
Rep. Eliot Engel: Well, I think he wasn't specific, but he laid out a directive, it's time that some of my colleagues stopped denying climate change. I think it's a relevant topic and I think it's evident to anyone that things have been changing in this country. I think he said very forcefully that we had super storm Sandy, I'm from New York, and I know the devastation it wreaked in New York. I lived there all my life; I've never seen a storm like that. And we've had in the past, as the president said, in just a few years seen so many of those storms, you can't deny climate change. Maybe you can deny reasons why we have climate change, but certainly that should be an issue that's front and center, and I'm glad that the President, by mentioning it in his State of the Union address, once again put it up front and center.
Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, tonight the president talked about forming an energy security trust to divert some oil and gas revenues to technology research and development. What are your thoughts on that?
Rep. Paul Tonko: Absolutely empowering. Research equals jobs. No better way to say it. We are a nation of great intellect. We need to harness the intellectual capacity into innovation, new ideas, new approaches, new solutions that translates into jobs. And no sophisticated society can maintain its greatness without the challenge of coming up with new product lines, ways to harness energy, create a domestic supply, induce energy efficiency as our top priority, this is the way we make it happen, through research and the trust fund that he would establish, the sliding over of dollars into new ideas, new concepts, which challenge all of Americans. That's wonderful.
Monica Trauzzi: Something we've talked about many times is the Keystone XL Pipeline. There was no mention of that in tonight's speech.
Rep. Lee Terry: Crickets were chirping.
Monica Trauzzi: What do you think his lack of commenting on that, but also just the general comments on energy, what do you think that sort of foreshadows on the future of the pipeline?
Rep. Lee Terry: I think it foreshadows doom for the pipeline, frankly. He didn't mention it, the silence was deafening, and it definitely makes me think that he's going to not support it and deny it. And then he segued into global warming by talking about reducing the carbon footprint, and while I believe Keystone reduces the global footprint by using the oil here and using a pipeline and using the technology of US refineries versus China, he said China's the clean entity, and yet people are buying masks there because of the pollution. Anywhere, it's a long answer to say I don't think he's going to support the pipeline based on his speech tonight.
Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, tonight the president called on Congress to move forward with a bipartisan market-based approach to climate change. Does something like that have legs?
Rep. Gene Green: I don't think it has a lot of shot this time, because, you know, when the Democrats, we were in the majority, we tried capping trade, it barely got out of the House. I supported it with some compromises we made on our energy commerce committee, it didn't get anywhere in the Senate. I think if we want to deal with climate change, and I think we ought to, I think we ought to look at a way we can do it in small steps. Of course, coming from Texas I feel like natural gas, as the president noted in his speech, has helped us save on carbon. I think we need to build on that, the success we've had, and of course use more natural gas for transportation fuel, even in exporting. But also the expansion in our industries. Our refineries are cleaner burning now because they're using natural gas instead of diesel, because natural gas is better for the environment, and also cheaper for the refiners.
Monica Trauzzi: He did speak about natural gas at length, though. Were you not encouraged by those remarks?
Rep. Mike Pompeo: I'll believe it when I see it. He has ten federal agencies investigating whether fracking should continue in America, and he has a radical environmental left that is demanding that he close off this affordable, cheap, abundant American energy source. So I heard it, I've heard him say it before, but I've watched their actions, and they've been very, very inconsistent. I hope he'll do what he said he did tonight; it would thrill me.
Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, energy and climate were high up on the President's speech tonight. Did he give the Energy and Commerce Committee a clear directive on how to move forward with energy policy?
Rep. Bill Johnson: Not really. You know, it's more of the same confusing rhetoric that we've had from the president in the past. He talked again about his excitement about the oil and gas industry, and we know that oil production on federal lands was down 14 percent in 2011, we're still waiting on the numbers to come out for 2012. You know, any kind of surge in oil and gas is happening on private lands, through the private sector, not because of the President's policies. Because when you look at what's happening with the EPA, with the other regulatory agencies that are going after our ability to go after fossil fuels, it's very difficult to imagine that the president is really serious about wanting an all of the above energy policy. He says so, but that's not what his actions show.
Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, tonight the president spoke about the importance of both clean energy and natural gas. Did he strike the right balance when it comes to the future of energy policy in the United States?
Rep. Pete Olson: In my opinion, no. He didn't stress natural gas, fossil fuels. He keeps stressing the green energy and all that climate change. Climate change is ... about climate change, he talked about that a lot. Congress will have to act for anything to happen with climate change. But again, I don't think he struck the proper balance. He doesn't understand. We've got a revolution out there. Fracking and directional drilling have changed our geopolitical landscape and our energy landscape. He needs to embrace that. He does a good job taking credit for all the ... but the bottom line is he talked about this research center, the private sector created this technology development. They don't need more research. Just turn them loose. If he turns the private sector loose, we'll be energy dependent by 2025 at a minimum.
Monica Trauzzi: This idea of diverting oil and gas revenues to research and development and developing technologies, what are your thoughts on that?
Rep. Peter DeFazio: I think it's a good idea, but also, we need to do a number of things in terms of taxing energy consumption. We pay for our infrastructure by taxing energy consumption. I'm not quite certain how we would structure that, because we're very deficient in our infrastructure investment, which also has implications regarding climate change. The amount of fuel that's wasted in idling, billions of gallons a year; the amount of time people spend that way. Having a more fuel-efficient, less congested infrastructure, 21st century infrastructure, is important, as is developing new technologies. I think we can do both. I'm not sure, I just don't want it to take away from sources of potential funding for rebuilding and building out a 21st century infrastructure.
Monica Trauzzi: Coming from the district that you come from, what were your thoughts on his idea of diverting some oil and gas revenues to research and development and technology?
Rep. Glenn Thompson: It didn't surprise me the president would want to do that, he's always looking for new ways to expand government. I think we should be using the revenues and royalties, but it should go towards balancing the budget. It should go towards strengthening the economy. How do you do that? You use that to reduce and eventually eliminate that $17 trillion dollars debt. You know, the part of the Energy Department I'm a huge fan of is our National Energy Labs. I spend a lot of time at those labs; they're full of professionals, researchers, scientists, and they're looking for new developments, new innovations. So I certainly support investing in that type of research and development for tomorrow's discovery. I think it's going to be a long time till we're past the fossil fuel age, but let's be ready for it, let's see what's next out there. So I do support research and development in terms of energy, and quite frankly, we've got a great agency that does that in terms of our National Energy Lab employees.
Monica Trauzzi: Congressional response to the president's energy and climate directives will be tested in the coming weeks with both chambers expected to hold hearings on the issues. From Capitol Hill, I'm Monica Trauzzi.
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