Covington & Burling's Waldron discusses prospects for legislation in the Senate

As health care reform continues to dominate the congressional schedule, what are the prospects for passage of a climate or energy package this year? During today's OnPoint, Gerry Waldron, a partner at Covington & Burling and the former staff director of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, discusses the Senate's options on climate and energy. He also gives his take on Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R-Alaska) resolution to block U.S. EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Gerry Waldron, a partner at Covington & Burling and the former staff director of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Gerry, thanks for coming on the show.

Gerry Waldron: Glad to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: Gerry, Senator Graham recently made some comments that Democrats were on the road to derailing climate and energy by making a partisan push on health care. What's your take on the interplay between what happens on health care in the next coming weeks and what we might see on climate and energy this year?

Gerry Waldron: Well, clearly, the Senate needs to address health care before they can turn to an energy bill. It has, frankly, long been an obstacle to progress on lots of different pieces of legislation. I understand that tempers are high now and they're going to be resolved in health care this week. I think after the recess people will cool down and see that you actually can do something for the American people bypassing an energy bill. And Senator Graham and all the senators are committed to making progress, helping our economy, and I think they will understand, once tempers cool down, that this is actually a good deal for the American people.

Monica Trauzzi: You said energy bill, so do you believe that climate is off the table?

Gerry Waldron: No, I think it's a comprehensive energy bill. I think those are really two sides of the same coin. An energy bill is about promoting alternative energy, renewable energy and the like and, once you do that, you are actually helping to solve the climate problem. So, as the House bill saw them as two sides of the same coin, I think the Senate will as well.

Monica Trauzzi: The House managed to pass a cap and trade, however, do you think that the house will be OK with the Senate maybe not going as far as they did?

Gerry Waldron: I think people somehow got confused along the way. Cap and trade is a tool. It's a mechanism. It's not a goal in and of itself. Now, in the House bill we thought that was the most efficient way, the wisest way to put a price on carbon and I think Senator Graham and Senator Kerry are exploring other alternatives to put a price on carbon. The goal is the same, to put a price on carbon and to put a cap and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The mechanism that they use might not be identical to the House, but that's why we have a reconciliation process. That's why we go to conference, to reconcile those two versions. And I think if the goal is the same the mechanism that you use is one that both sides are happy to discuss.

Monica Trauzzi: What's your take on this bipartisan effort that you mentioned between Graham, Kerry, and Lieberman? I mean can it work and does Graham have enough push in the background to sort of get the votes that they need?

Gerry Waldron: I think that's a very powerful signal that this is bipartisan. I would add Collins and Cantwell, you know, their legislation, again, bipartisan. Senator McCain was one of the first senators to introduce climate change legislation. Frankly, that's more Republicans than are willing to work on health care. So, I actually take that as an optimistic sign that this is a serious effort and energy issues have traditionally not broken down on ideological grounds. Frankly, they've been more regional differences in party differences. So, I take that as an optimistic sign. Senator Graham has great standing. He sees this as a national security issue and when he talks about a national security issue people listen and pay attention. Frankly, on the health side, the speaker, Chairman Waxman, Chairman Markey always would make the point that this is good for national security, but it really never resonated. But when Senator Graham says it people pay up and pay attention and that I think it's a winning argument.

Monica Trauzzi: What are the biggest issues you see at this point with the Senate legislation that they really need to work out at this point?

Gerry Waldron: I think the scope of the legislation, the scope of it. In the House bill we opted for an economy-wide bill, because, frankly, we thought it was there to the electric utility industry. They were being asked to do a lot, others could as well. I think the scope of it that you're talking about is going to be an issue. I think addressing the issue of the speculators in the market, you know, do you allow everyone to enter the market for credits or do you only limit it to people who actually have to turn in a pollution permit at the end of the year? So, there are some concerns about speculation that Senator Dorgan and Senator Cantwell and others have raised. I think those are sort of two of the big issues. And the last one is dealing with the refineries and trying to look at the transportation sector and perhaps looking at them slightly differently than you do the utility sector.

Monica Trauzzi: The latest polling shows Americans are more skeptical about climate change than they were two years ago. What impact has the Climategate story had on the support level for acting on climate change?

Gerry Waldron: Well, I have seen the same polls and I note that a strong majority still do believe in this. And I also look at the polls about do you support national security? Do you support oil independence? Do you support renewable energy? Those are 70, 80, 90 percent. Ninety percent of Americans don't believe the sky is blue. I mean that is a shocking number and so I think to the extent that Senator Graham and Senator Kerry are talking about this as a national security bill and as an energy bill to put America on energy independence and, frankly, to invest in solar and wind, because Americans are worried that we're losing that race. They worry that we're losing to the Chinese, to the Germans that race. And so investing in clean energy actually polls really high and that's why I think you're going to hear Senator Graham and Senator Kerry and others talk about this as an energy bill and a national security bill. And that is very popular with the American people.

Monica Trauzzi: Is that enough though for the international community?

Gerry Waldron: I think it is. I think it is. I think what you saw in Copenhagen is China and the United States. I refer to those as the coalition of the previously unwilling. They were unwilling previously to do anything. Now they signed up for a commitment. That was an important step. I was at a conference in Europe last week and people are saying, you know, in March Copenhagen is actually beginning to look better. We were disappointed. We thought there was going to be a grand accomplishment. Copenhagen was not a point in time, it's a process. And that represented progress on a journey. It's a long journey though and the United States, frankly, started flat-footed on January 20 of 2009. So in the span of 12 months, 14 months, we have made progress and so I think, for the international community, if they see America is on a path towards renewable energy, towards looking at the utility sector, I think that is a powerful sign.

Monica Trauzzi: Other than the legislation on climate, we also have the EPA action on regulating emissions and Senator Murkowski is attempting to block U.S. EPA from regulating greenhouse gases from large polluters such as power plants. Does her resolution have any legs? I mean where do you see this going and does it really have an impact on the debate that we're seeing in the Senate?

Gerry Waldron: I think the Murkowski resolution reflects some concerns that some members have about how EPA is going about doing this and how far and expansive they're going to be. Administrator Jackson recognized those concerns in her letter recently to Senator Rockefeller and eight other senators outlining what she is going to do and what she is not going to do. I think that goes a long way towards addressing the core concerns that were reflected in the Murkowski resolution. And so I think those senators recognize that there actually is much good from lots of perspectives in the EPA going forward. What people don't understand is the Murkowski resolution would blow up the deal that California and the states and the EPA and the auto industry wrestled over years and years and years and it would blow that up. So, that's bad for the auto industry. That's bad for the domestic auto industry. And so I think once people see, gee, Murkowski is overreaching and the worst concerns that we had, administrator Jackson has taken those off the table. So I think a recognition that it's overreaching on the tailpipe in the auto industry and an appreciation for what administrator Jackson has said she's not going to do, I think that's enough for people to realize that the Murkowski resolution is the wrong way to go.

Monica Trauzzi: What about the process in the Senate? Have lessons been learned from the Lieberman-Warner debate? Is there a significant difference this time around with how they're handling things?

Gerry Waldron: Well, I think the second time around is always a little bit easier. You know, it's sometimes said that a smart man learns from their own mistakes and a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. On the House side we had the benefit of watching the Senate go first in how we drafted it and how we couched it and how we put the bill together. And I think the Senate has the benefit of a) going through it themselves, and b) watching how it unfolded on the House side and since then. And so I think that makes it a lot easier and, frankly, you know, it's frequently said that all the work in the Senate is done on the floor and that's really when you start to focus attention. And so I think now you're going to have members who had to focus on this issue two years ago are now going to be back at it and going to be well equipped.

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

Gerry Waldron: Thanks, Monica.

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

[End of Audio]



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