Energy Policy:

BPC's Dorgan, Lott give recommendations on natural gas, nuclear, efficiency and climate

Can the United States address its energy and environment challenges in a bipartisan fashion? During today's OnPoint, former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) give 50 specific policy recommendations on energy that are part of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Energy Project. Dorgan and Lott, who are co-chairmen of the Energy Project, explain why they believe the United States should avoid restrictions on the international trade of energy.


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. Senate 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 again.

Trent Lott: Glad to be back.

Monica Trauzzi: Senator Lott, the last time you were both on the show, we talked about some structural changes you believe needed to happen in order to facilitate the process for creating a national energy strategy. Today, the Energy Project has released 50 specific policy recommendations ...

Trent Lott: Right.

Monica Trauzzi: ... on energy. You don't believe the executive branch is well equipped to lead the way on national energy policy, so who should be giving the country direction on where to go on energy?

Trent Lott: Well, it should be coming from the President, but in consultation with, you know, experts, the stakeholders, and the Congress, for sure. There are some things that could be done administratively without Congressional action, but there are a lot of things that need to be done by the Congress, in the tax area as well as just energy policy. One of the things that we're recommending is that they do a quadrennial analysis, like they do at the Department of Defense, and that they have an energy council made up of all the different agencies and departments that have a part of energy policy, and it would be chaired by the Secretary of Energy. The President could do most of that himself, but he's not done it. I think it would certainly help if Congress would, you know, put that in law. I think it would have a very positive effect in terms of setting energy policy and energy security for our country.

Monica Trauzzi: Senator Dorgan, before we get into the policy recommendations, what impact do you believe sequestration will have on the future of energy policy and Congress's ability to work in a bipartisan fashion?

Byron Dorgan: I don't think it'll have a lot of impact, largely because sequestration will happen. It won't be unbelievably consequential in the short term. I think much of the dislocation from it will be fixed with the continuing appropriations bill at the end of March. So, you know, I, it's not good for government to create this uncertainty and not be able to reach agreement. So that's one thing. But I don't think it's going to have a long-term impact on energy.

Trent Lott: But Monica, that's one of the reasons why I would like to see the Congress take up energy. It is an area where in the past it has been bipartisan. We passed energy legislation in 2005, 2007. Byron and I worked on that, the Republicans and Democrats, and both of them were positive bills. So it is an area where maybe they could come together and produce a product that would be good for America, and American energy and independence, and the creation of jobs. So I think the timeliness of this report is critical, and I hope that the leaders will say, "Yes, this is a place where we can do some good, and maybe do it in a bipartisan way."

Monica Trauzzi: And I recently interviewed Chairman Wyden, chair of the Senate Energy Committee.

Trent Lott: Right.

Monica Trauzzi: And he indicated that this idea of a comprehensive energy bill maybe isn't the best approach. Maybe we need to just focus on individual technologies and hitting each one individually. What do you think of that approach? Or do we need that big energy bill?

Trent Lott: Well, let me yield to Byron on that, because we've talked about that.

Byron Dorgan: Well, I think, yeah. I mean, I, it's useful to begin priming the pump to demonstrate that you can do smaller things, and those are important things. But I think ultimately there needs to be the accumulation of some energy policies that represent the overriding goals. We need to produce more energy. We need to produce more from diverse sources. We need to conserve more energy, and especially efficiency. We need more research and development that will represent tomorrow's energy. And let me just say, I think this book, which has some 50 recommendations and shows how we could do this in a bipartisanship way or bipartisan way, rather, I think it also is a book that largely says let's have a made in America energy program.

Trent Lott: But here's the reason why. It makes sense that, OK, look, so maybe we can't do the big gulp, so let's do some baby steps. The problem is in the Senate, the Majority Leader's biggest problem is time to, unless these are highly non-controversial that would be very easy to pass, maybe even a voice vote, which would probably not be likely in a lot of cases, once you put it on the floor, senators can do whatever they want to do, even when the leadership is pushing back. So that's why I think it's time, it'd be easier for the leader to get it on the floor and do one big piece, plus there are a number of areas where we do need some legislative action, and I would hope that maybe they could be pulled together in a block.

Monica Trauzzi: And one of the things that you highlight in the new report is this idea of avoiding restrictions on the international trade of energy. One of the things that the Senate Energy Committee tackled first this year was the idea of LNG exports. Is that a good starting point, and could that sort of prime the pump for a possible direction for the US on trading?

Trent Lott: Well, that's one of the areas where we did have a lot of discussion, but we basically agreed that we believe in free markets, and we believe in free trade, and we thought that to export LNG, or oil, or even coal, even though there's some concerns about that from an environmental standpoint, is the American way. And we agreed in our report that we should have those exports.

Byron Dorgan: Let me just say, the natural gas story is a very positive story in this country.

Trent Lott: Oh, yeah.

Byron Dorgan: But, and we said, let's let the market decide on the issue of exports.

Trent Lott: Yeah.

Byron Dorgan: But, you know, it's not clear that the economics exist to take natural gas, liquefy it, put it in these very expensive plants, on a ship, move to Asia or wherever you move it. It's not clear that the economics justify that in any significant way.

Trent Lott: There is some movement in that direction.

Byron Dorgan: Right.

Trent Lott: At least one permit has been granted. Maybe there's another one pending. But in the Louisiana area, Cheniere, I believe it is.

Monica Trauzzi: Cheniere.

Trent Lott: Has the first permit. So they're reverse engineering and they're moving in that direction. And I agree with Byron. I don't think there's going to be a big shift, but if we're going to have all these additional energy sources that we now think we may have, that opportunity will exist, and I wouldn't want the government to be telling the LNG people you can't do that.

Monica Trauzzi: Senator Dorgan, what's the story on nuclear? How should Congress be approaching this issue of a nuclear waste storage facility, with Yucca Mountain being so divisive? Do you think that they can actually get somewhere on nuclear? What role should nuclear play?

Byron Dorgan: Well, when I talked about producing more energy from diverse sources, that includes wind, solar, nuclear. I mean, we, it makes our country more secure to use diverse sources. And by the way, overlaying all of this is the question of environment, you know, the issue of climate change. And as you know, producing nuclear energy has a real advantage in that area. So, you know, the waste issue is casting a shadow, and has always cast a shadow on the issue of nuclear energy. We've had a lot of people working on it. We, you know, we had the storage facility in Nevada off and on, and so, you know, there's going to be a lot of work, I think, in the future on the issue of storing nuclear waste. How do you deal with it? We've got to resolve that. We have to answer it. But I think nuclear power will be a part of our energy future.

Trent Lott: That's one of those cases of NIMBY, not in my back yard.

Monica Trauzzi: Yeah.

Trent Lott: I've always been, said we need something better than what we have now, where like at Hannaford, you know, we've got these outdoor storage areas, which maybe there's some leaking problem with. But then when they talked about doing it in Salt Dome, in my state, my attitude changed pretty quickly. But we do need to address that issue. We don't make a specific recommendation in this report on that. We said we, you need to continue to work on what we're going to do with nuclear waste, and you need to work on how we're going to have additional nuclear plants without loan guarantees. And we're, you know, we were somewhat reserved in that area, too. But it's an area that needs attention of the Congress and the administration.

Monica Trauzzi: You both address environmental concerns. Does a carbon tax or some other kind of broad policy on carbon need to exist in order to get the United States to the right place on the environmental sticking points?

Trent Lott: This may be where we might disagree a little bit. I've never been an advocate of the carbon tax or cap and trade, neither one of those. But where I do take a little different position than a lot of Republicans is, you know, you can question climate change or not, but you can't question that we're putting things in the atmosphere that we really, probably are not good, and we should be able to do a better job of controlling that and limiting that. So quit arguing over whether it or it ain't, and see what you can do that everybody understands could be positive. Now how you do that is where the devil in the details exists. But I think there's, LNG is going to drive that. You know, natural gas is going to force some changes in the energy market, whether anybody likes it or not. I like it. I think we're going to get cleaner energy out of that, and it's going to force some changes with regard to coal, for instance.

Byron Dorgan: I think the consensus is that we need a lower carbon future, and I think one way to do that is to put a price on carbon, and I think that would provide certainty by which we could determine what kind of energy future we want, and what the cost would be. So the sooner we address energy at the same intersection as the environment, and we have to address both, the better for the country, in my judgment.

Trent Lott: My greatest concern on that is, OK, even if we could come to an agreement on how to do it, one of the things I'd want to look at very closely is where does the money go? Always follow the money. And the place where the money was going to go as a result of cap and trade was not good. Now if it's going to go energy research and development, if it's going to go to reduce the deficit, then it might have a little more attractiveness.

Byron Dorgan: And I agree. On the cap and trade, the last thing I wanted to do was give Wall Street a $1 trillion ...

Trent Lott: Yeah.

Byron Dorgan: ... carbon securities trading scheme.

Trent Lott: Yeah.

Monica Trauzzi: All right.

Byron Dorgan: Given the recent experience with Wall Street.

Monica Trauzzi: This highlights some of the main sticking points that we're seeing in Congress right now on this debate.

Byron Dorgan: Right, right, right.

Monica Trauzzi: We're going to end it right there.

Byron Dorgan: All right.

Monica Trauzzi: Very interesting discussion.

Trent Lott: Thank you, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Interesting report. Thank you both.

Trent Lott: Thank you.

Byron Dorgan: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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