Energy Future Coalition's Detchon makes case for broader efficiency provisions in Senate bill

Earlier this month, a new coalition of labor, manufacturing and consumer and energy advocacy organizations urged Congress to add building efficiency provisions to the climate bill. During today's OnPoint, Reid Detchon, executive director at the Energy Future Coalition, one of the group's member organizations, explains how efficiency provisions should be broadened in the Senate's bill. He also discusses the economic benefits of improving building efficiency and gives his take on domestic and international climate discussions.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Reid Detchon, executive director at the Energy Future Coalition. Reid, nice to have you back on the show.

Reid Detchon: Always good to be here, Monica, thanks.

Monica Trauzzi: Reid, your organization, along with the Center for American Progress Action Fund recently announced an unprecedented business/labor/NGO coalition with a goal of retrofitting 50 million buildings in the U.S. by 2020. It's a big goal. Why did you choose this moment in the climate and energy debate to come out with this announcement?

Reid Detchon: Well, it is a big goal and it's an exciting goal and really that's part of the issue. We think energy efficiency is really critical to achieving both our energy goals and our climate goals, but it's been undertaken at too small a scale to date. We wanted to raise up people's vision as to what could be accomplished.

Monica Trauzzi: You've got the support of several members of Congress on this. Specifically, what policies are you looking at for Congress to implement for this program to actually happen?

Reid Detchon: Well, the House made a good start on the energy efficiency title in its bill and the Senate has done some good work in the energy committee, but we think that they could do more. In particular, we think that an energy efficiency standard, a minimum level that utilities need to reach in terms of reducing their consumers' energy bills would be a very important step. We think that there should be additional allowances under the cap-and-trade program, to support efficiency, both directly through the utilities and also for efficiency itself. And we think that there are tax incentives and financing mechanisms, there's a provision in the energy bill on both sides creating a clean energy development administration and that supports in terms bonding authority for state and local governments to provide funding for homeowners and business owners to do energy efficiency. And lastly, we think it's very important that there be standards put into legislation so that the job is done right, people have confidence in this area and the industry will grow.

Monica Trauzzi: You'd like for these policy initiatives to be included in the climate bill, but if the votes aren't there to make the climate package happen early next year, what other vehicles are you looking for or towards to make this happen?

Reid Detchon: Well, this is obviously important in terms of the climate bill and in terms of energy legislation, but we think that any legislation that moves in this area would be worth paying attention to. This is a jobs initiative. This would create 625,000 jobs steadily over a decade, not one time jobs, but sustained jobs and so we think that if there's jobs legislation that's bought up next year this ought to be part of it. It could be that the pieces that are already in the energy bill need to be augmented. And really, this is an initiative that we couldn't have done two years ago, Monica, and the reason is that if we'd said let's have a massive initiative to retrofit America's buildings, the labor community would have said we don't have the people to do it. We're full up with the real estate boom, but, unfortunately, the real estate market is not booming now. There are a lot of people out of work who are trained in these areas, need a little bit of training on efficiency itself, but could be trained up and could do this work and put to work right away.

Monica Trauzzi: Does this plan have the White House's backing? I mean is this something that they're going to be pushing for in either a jobs bill or the climate bill?

Reid Detchon: Well, we haven't had that discussion about whether they'd be pushing for it, but it's very consistent with their approach. As you know, the vice president came out with a recovery through retrofit program, that's a down payment. I know at DOE, the Department of Energy, there's a lot of work being done on retrofits and how do you bring this to scale. What are the financing mechanisms? How do the grant programs support this? So, I think it's very much consistent with what the administration is doing and I would hope that they would support it.

Monica Trauzzi: So, let's talk about the climate legislation that's making its way through the Senate. The legislation has cleared Senate EPW. It now faces several hurdles as it tries to make its way to the Senate floor. How important will moderate senators be over the next couple of months as this legislation is debated?

Reid Detchon: Well, Monica, I'm very encouraged by the discussions that are going on between Senator Kerry, Senator Graham, and Senator Lieberman because that's a great cross section of the Senate. If they can agree on an outline of what the climate bill ought to look like in the Senate I think then the goal should be not to get 60 votes but to get 70 votes. Let's get something that really represents a broad cross section of the Senate, because the climate problem that we're facing is one we're going to be dealing with for a generation. If we relate a solid foundation with a bipartisan bill in the Senate, then we can bring back an agreement from Copenhagen or Mexico City or wherever it is and get the 67 votes that we need for that. Let's be strategic about a long-term plan here.

Monica Trauzzi: Senator Graham though has taken some heat for his partnership with Kerry, so do you think it's possible to get all of those votes when he's not even getting the support of his own party?

Reid Detchon: Well, I think that Senator Graham was very courageous in what he did. He knew that breaking with party orthodoxy, at least as it shows up in Washington, you know, of course Republicans around the country, Republican governors have been among the leaders on climate change. But he knew that there would be a price to be paid and he agreed to do it anyway. I think that that's a real act of moral leadership. And I think that there are many areas where Republicans and Democrats traditionally have agreed on energy policy and could agree again and he's bringing in some of those elements into this discussion. So, I think the there is a good possibility that it can go forward.

Monica Trauzzi: With the health care debate in the background, do you think Democrats will be as willing to make certain concessions on climate? I mean is the political will there to do this?

Reid Detchon: Well, I think that there are moderate Democrats who have similar concerns as the Republicans on this and I think that if agreements can be reached that bring in a Lieberman, bring in a Graham, I think that that's going to appeal to moderate Democrats as well. I don't think that while the overall goal is certainly a matter of principle, I think the individual elements can be negotiated and I think there's a way to put together a package that can get broad support in the Senate.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned Mexico City and Copenhagen, the two international talks that are coming up over the next six months or so. No agreement is expected in Copenhagen. What does Obama need to do though; does he need to still appear there or at this point would that not really have an impact on what's decided in Copenhagen?

Reid Detchon: Well, I'd like to get away from symbolic gestures like that and I think that really what's happening in the Senate and what's happening in the negotiations is quite similar. People have come through a process to take on a very daunting challenge, really remaking the world's energy systems in a low carbon format. That's something that's not lightly done and I think both in the Senate and in the negotiating process people have realized how daunting that challenge is. It's going to take instead of one step, two steps. So, we've had this first run up in the Senate. We're going to have some more negotiations, some more work with the House, probably have something done early next year. That's the good strategy. And then in Copenhagen it's much the same way. The countries of the world recognize the difficulty of putting together this big of a package. It's taken a while to get them to seriousness on the negotiating. I think that this year in particular has been a success bringing high-level heads of state and the like to the negotiations to think about what their countries have to commit to do. That will set the stage for a political agreement in Copenhagen as to how to make the deal a year from now or six months from now.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Reid Detchon: Thank you Monica.

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

[End of Audio]



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