UNF's Detchon previews Obama oil spill speech

In his first Oval Office address before the nation tonight, President Obama is expected to call on Congress to pass a comprehensive climate and energy package. During today's OnPoint, Reid Detchon, vice president for energy and climate at the UN Foundation, discusses the speech and the state of negotiations on climate and energy in the Senate.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Reid Detchon, then vice president for Energy and Climate at the U.N. Foundation. Reid, it's great to have you here, as always.

Reid Detchon: Well, it's great to be here, Monica. Thanks for having me back.

Monica Trauzzi: Reid, during last week's floor debate on the Murkowski resolution Democrats tried to link the oil spill to the climate negotiations and the president is scheduled to speak before the nation on Tuesday night about the oil spill. How do you expect the president will address climate and energy legislation in his remarks?

Reid Detchon: Well, I think he'll make the point that he's made before, but more strongly in view of the oil spill, that you can't just keep up with the same old energy economy that we've had. We can't keep relying on the same fossil fuel sources that are shrinking in supply, getting more and more dangerous and difficult to get out of the earth or out of the sea, that we have to start to make a transition to a new energy economy with new technologies and the time to do it is now. With the energy bill and the climate overlaid makes it even more urgent.

Monica Trauzzi: And do you expect that the message will include some kind of price on carbon, some cap on emissions or will he only try to go the clean energy route, the energy only package?

Reid Detchon: Well, I think he'll probably emphasize the economic benefits are making the investments in these new energy technologies. But you have to be realistic about it. Without a price signal on carbon these new technologies are going to have a much harder time competing. Energy is not a free market. Energy is a regulated market. It's driven by policy. We have to make a policy decision in this country that we want to go down the road of these new technologies, invest in innovation and manufacturing in the United States for jobs right here. Otherwise, what is it that the U.S. is going to produce in this country? Are we just going to rely on a billion dollars a day to Saudi Arabia in oil that we're borrowing from China? That's just not a sustainable economic program. So, as we think about how to restore the economy, we have to think about investment in our future, investment in new jobs, investment in potential sources of manufacturing for the future.

Monica Trauzzi: A vote on climate and energy is a risky vote to have in an election year. Do you think that engagement from the president at this point will have serious impacts on how the Senate moves forward on this issue or are they really keeping an eye on November?

Reid Detchon: Well, I think the president has shown in the health care debate and other debates that when he intervenes he has a big impact and I think that the Senate will be looking to him for guidance and I think that the economic arguments, the job creation arguments are very powerful right now. I think people in the country understand that we have to make this transition. They understand they want to be protected from adverse economic impacts, but if you look at the economic analyses there are very small, if any, impacts that people will feel in their ordinary lives.

Monica Trauzzi: How critical is the linkage of the oil spill to clean energy legislation and at what point do Democrats risk overplaying the issue?

Reid Detchon: Well, Congress can't go home this year and say, oh gee, we just couldn't get around to energy when oil is pouring out of the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Congress has to act and I think that once you start to get energy legislation up into debate that people recognize there are things that are politically attractive that people want that it's time to do. We need to have stronger renewable energy standards. We need to have stronger work on energy efficiency, particularly on building retrofits. We need to move forward with gas. We have these enormous new supplies of shale gas that have recently become economically competitive. This gives us a transition fuel to move into a cleaner energy economy.

Monica Trauzzi: So, the Murkowski resolution failed in the Senate last week. From a political standpoint, how does that impact the climate and energy debate?

Reid Detchon: Well, I think that the Murkowski resolution or the possible Rockefeller amendment, these were ideas that may have made since a year ago when it wasn't clear what Congress was going to do and what the administration was going to do. But EPA has taken a very careful and prudent approach to regulating in this area, waiting for Congress to act, as Congress wanted it to, and now Congress has acted and the House is prepared to act in the Senate. I think Congress should act and then these two proposals become moot.

Monica Trauzzi: So, the Rockefeller proposal, there was some talk last week that that might have legs since the Murkowski proposal did not pass. Do you see it as having legs? I mean is it a good idea to buy maybe two years of time for the Senate to act if they're not able to get it done this year?

Reid Detchon: No, I don't think it's a good idea. I think that really this is an effort really to kill action on climate. People aren't willing to say it's that, but you have to look at the facts. They're saying don't let EPA act until Congress acts, but, by and large, they're the very same people who are preventing Congress from acting. So, it's really cynical behavior in my opinion. We have to take the bull by the horns. The House has acted. The Senate's prepared to act. The National Academy has just come out with another report reaffirming the science of climate change. We just had the hottest April on record in the history of recorded devices. What more do we need…evidence do we need to move forward?

Monica Trauzzi: But if the Senate is not able to cross the finish line, which we're still uncertain about, and EPA does begin to regulate early next year, what impact is that going to have on the economy? I mean is this a smart move?

Reid Detchon: I think EPA is taking a very prudent approach to this. They've set guidelines that only the biggest sources of greenhouse gases would be regulated, power plants, major industrial sources. There is an opportunity, under EPA regulation, to create a cap-and-trade program among utilities, for example, very similar to what was done on acid rain. And I think that if Congress is unable to act this problem is so important and so urgent that EPA has to start acting. And you may have noticed that there was a poll last week that 71 percent of the American people believe there should be restrictions on emissions.

Monica Trauzzi: Is the Kerry-Lieberman bill done as we know it and how many changes actually need to happen to that bill in itself in order to get to those 60 votes needed in the Senate?

Reid Detchon: Well, Monica, here's how I look at energy legislation in the Senate. It's a lot like putting together an appropriation bill. It's not like health care where everything you do on one side gores somebody else's ox on the other side. Energy legislation you can give something to all the interested parties and put together a Christmas tree, frankly, to make it happen. I think that some of the items that we mentioned before, renewables, efficiency, natural gas, nuclear, these are very popular ideas, both in the Senate and in the general public. And, in fact, on the emissions side utilities want to have a cap on emissions so they have some certainty on planning their capital investment. You can put that package together in a way, I believe, that could get 60 votes.

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

Reid Detchon: Thank you.

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

[End of Audio]



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