Quinn Gillespie's Hoppe, Von Bargen preview Senate plans for climate, energy

With a new bill expected to be released as early as next week in the Senate, what are the prospects for climate legislation this year? During today's OnPoint, Dave Hoppe, president of Quinn Gillespie & Associates and a former chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), and Patrick Von Bargen, a director at QG&A and the former chief of staff to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), give their take on challenges to U.S. EPA's regulation of emissions. They also discuss expectations for climate legislation in the Senate and explain how a bill could affect state-level emissions reduction efforts.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Dave Hoppe, president of Quinn Gillespie and Associates and a former chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, and Patrick Von Bargen, a director at QGA and the former chief of staff to Senator Jeff Bingaman. Thank you both for joining me today.

Dave Hoppe: Our pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: Dave, with EPA announcing it will postpone the regulation of stationary sources until January 2011 last week, we're seeing a slew of legal challenges, the issue being whether the Clean Air Act actually allows for regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. With all these legal challenges, are we going to actually see an impact on EPA regulation? I mean do they matter in the long run?

Dave Hoppe: Well, you've got those going on, but you also have, in the Congress right now, an effort to roll back EPA's ability to do regulations in that area, both regulatory efforts in the Congress to rollback regulations and some efforts by the Congress to limit the amount of money they can spend, so that they cannot spend money to do this. And that's a political issue that I think is going to get hotter during the year; in fact, will probably jump ahead of the court cases that you're seeing simply because the court action takes much longer to come to fruition than these. I think you'll see those actions, whether on the Senate side where there's been a bipartisan effort, both in House and Senate side in the different levels to try and do something. So, I would expect that to be a nearer-term action for the EPA to be concerned about than the court cases.

Monica Trauzzi: And you're talking about what Senator Murkowski ...

Dave Hoppe: Yes.

Monica Trauzzi: Is pushing for in the Senate. But what does that all mean? Will it have an impact?

Dave Hoppe: It will if she is successful, because it will literally say that EPA cannot put those regulations out, so instead of just postponing them it will stop them. And come in fact, if you do it through the appropriations process, which some others are talking about, that also will stop them because it will not allow money to be spent to pursue them. And so instead of just postponing dates, you're then talking about stopping action completely.

Monica Trauzzi: And, from what you understand, are the votes there to get that done?

Patrick Von Bargen: I think actually on the Murkowski-type resolutions, probably the votes are not there. I think the issue will be do we get any kind of climate bill in this Congress and, if we do, we are likely to have language in that bill that says this regime is the sole regime to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. And the EPA does not have authority under the Clean Air Act to do it. So, that's really what we need to wait for, is the resolution of will we get a climate bill.

Monica Trauzzi: And stripping EPA of that God authority.

Patrick Von Bargen: Correct.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, so the legislation that everyone seems to be waiting for is this Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill that's expected next week. What are your expectations for how things may play out over the next couple of months once we see the release of that bill, Dave?

Dave Hoppe: I think when the bill is released you have to see where the votes are, because you have some bipartisan differences on this. There are a number of Democrats, admittedly it's a smaller part of their group of 59 votes, but there are probably a handful to maybe seven or eight who have real concerns about moving forward on a bill that's at least the outlines of what they've heard of the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill. On the Republican side you also have to see how many votes there are. Is there more than a handful? And right now I think you cannot count more than a handful, but that's sight unseen and obviously Senator Graham is going to be very aggressive in trying to find Republicans to support that when they put the bill out. But those two calculations of how many Democrats have a problem and how many Republicans might be enticed to be supportive of it will tell you whether you've got 60 votes to go ahead in the Senate, because I think this could be a situation where they would have to overcome a filibuster.

Monica Trauzzi: Patrick, Obama's move on offshore drilling last week, a lot of people feel that that was an attempt to garner some more votes. Do you think that that's going to have an impact? Does that work?

Patrick Von Bargen: Well, I think what he was trying to do is basically lay out a platform that says it's okay for Republicans especially to consider supporting a climate and energy bill that includes all these components, that I'm not asking you to sign onto some radical environmental agenda, I'm giving you a full plate of options to deal with and I'm going to go ahead and take some steps myself. So, I think he's trying to make the climate sort of safer for everyone to get on board, or as many people as he can get on board in the Senate.

Monica Trauzzi: Patrick, many people in town are concerned that this bill, the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill, is being weakened in order to get to those magic 60 votes. What will the impact be then on states who have already started regulation of emissions?

Patrick Von Bargen: Well, I think that will be a critical issue. If the bill looks like it is going to move forward and, as Dave says, we actually have votes to get to 60 then I think the role that federal preemption plays against the states I think will be pretty critical. It will be played out issue by issue, it won't be a wholesale calculation, but it will play out issue by issue. And whether the states should be able to go too far ahead of the federal regime is going to be a question that is going to get a lot of attention I think.

Monica Trauzzi: So, your best guess for how far this goes? Dave, do we see this going to the floor and getting the votes?

Dave Hoppe: I think you see it going to the floor because I think an attempt will be made. The question then is whether they can get to 60. I guess right now is, no, they can't. At which point you then are looking, I think, at the likelihood of the bill, be it that was reported out of the Energy Committee last June, coming to the floor, Senator Bingaman's bill, which has a lot of bipartisan support for most of it. There are some issues in there. RPS is one that doesn't have that bipartisan support, but the vast - most of the legislation in that bill, most of the issues in that bill do have bipartisan support.

Monica Trauzzi: Patrick?

Patrick Von Bargen: Right, I would agree with Dave. I actually think we're going to know pretty soon, that is if Senator Graham can say I can deliver the following number of Republicans, we'll know whether we've got a bill that actually has a shot. If he can't, Senator Reid may go to Senators Cantwell and Collins and say do you have any Republican votes? And, if they do, then he might proceed with that and then if those aren't there, then I think he probably defaults to the Bingaman energy bill.

Monica Trauzzi: OK. And you have several clients in the renewable sector. How important is passage of some sort of bill to them this year and what's the outlook in terms of funding and development?

Patrick Von Bargen: My clients, generally, in the renewable energy field, very much want a climate regime in play so that there is some reasonable price put on carbon and some regime to go forward, because that really sets forth a market demand component that is pretty critical.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, so we'll see what happens.

Patrick Von Bargen: Yeah.

Monica Trauzzi: Thank you both for coming on a show and thank you for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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