Has time run out for energy policy in the Senate this year? During today's OnPoint, Yvette Pena Lopes, director of legislation and intergovernmental affairs at the BlueGreen Alliance, explains how her organization plans to lobby Congress on energy for the remainder of the year. She discusses the prospects for a bipartisan renewable electricity standard proposal and gives her take on why climate and energy measures have failed in the Senate.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Yvette Pena Lopes, Director of Legislation and Intergovernmental Affairs at the BlueGreen Alliance. Yvette, thanks for coming on the show.
Yvette Pena Lopes: Thank you for having me, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: The BlueGreen Alliance is a partnership of labor and environmental groups pushing for policies that create green jobs and you're hoping to see some form of energy legislation passed before the end of this year. Is any amount of lobbying that you guys do really going to make a difference at this point for something that is essentially considered dead?
Yvette Pena Lopes: We hope so, Monica. Not just here in Washington DC, but also out in the field with our labor partners and our environmental partners as well. We've had bus tours, we've had constant events and we'll continue to do so for the rest for the rest of the year, really alerting the public as to the fact that the job is not done. The economy, workers are hurting, new jobs and opportunities are needed. We're falling behind. China is beating us right now on the race to renewable energy and clean investment. And so there's a real need and a real hope to act on our energy independence, to act on this green revolution that we've been seeing, that we've been fighting for and advocating for. And so we've been, day in, day out, I'm writing senators, that they really do need to act on, if not comprehensive climate change, which obviously is not looking alive, at least on some kind of effort, renewable energy standard for example, which has been a recent push. That's our hope.
Monica Trauzzi: So, what's your plan of action for the fall specifically? I mean what specific pieces of legislation are you pushing for?
Yvette Pena Lopes: Sure. Well, now realizing that climate is not moving, we've been focusing on a new bill that Senators Bingaman and Brownback have introduced. Basically setting out a renewable energy standard of 15 percent by 2020. It has a quarter of the senators supporting it, cosponsoring it, and so we're hoping that by the end of the year that gets done. We're also advocating for Home Star, which was part of the small oil spill bill that also, unfortunately, died upon arrival, which we believe will create jobs. Also, the 48C and 1603 tax credits are out there looming. We need to see those extended. We need to see them funded. A lot of opportunities are out there in our renewable energy sector and workers are waiting to get it done. And so those are our efforts.
Monica Trauzzi: Many have noted that the 15 percent standard is not very significant. What's your take on the goals that are set in that bipartisan bill?
Yvette Pena Lopes: Sure. Well, during this whole time we've been advocating a 25 percent as BlueGreen Alliance and, for us, I mean that would mean about 850,000 new jobs. And so that's been a big push for us. But realizing the partisan climate that exists today and the fact that climate change is sort of stonewalled and halted, the best that we have right now is this 15 percent. So it's better than nothing and we need a national standard to provide a stable market, to allow companies to comfortably feel that they can invest and know what the future holds. And so with Senator Brownback and Chairman Bingaman feeling like that's sort of the rate that has support and can move forward, then we embrace that and something is better than nothing.
Monica Trauzzi: Climate and energy were top-tier issues for the president when he came into office last year. With both houses of Congress run by Democrats, the president pushing hard for these issues, things still fell apart. Does that mean that there's no hope at all for climate, for cap and trade to ever pass?
Yvette Pena Lopes: Well, there's always hope, though we do have an uphill battle. Again, with the climate being - even though you do have a Senate Democrat majority in the Senate, it's not a strong enough majority to really push us there for an overall comprehensive bill. I mean we tried. I mean a lot of, on the environmental side, a lot was given, on the labor side a lot was given to try to get us there at the end of the day. And I think we ended up having a very good middle-ground bill, with some of the various provisions that a lot of the Republicans continue to push for, like nuclear and drilling and so forth. And so the fact that a lot of compromises and negotiations took place to move things there and yet it still fell apart really wasn't about the policy, but I think some folks in the Senate who just don't want to see anything get done in light of the elections coming up and the partisan bickering. But, hopefully, with our efforts and those across the country of, again, workers realizing we need to have a diverse energy portfolio, we need new jobs and, hopefully, at some point they'll start hearing them and move forward on action to have real energy policies.
Monica Trauzzi: So EPA regulation is looming. It's going to start early next year. Will that add an extra incentive for Congress to act?
Yvette Pena Lopes: I think so. Currently looming, as you know, is the Rockefeller amendment to halt EPA regs. A lot of conversations around that. And so with EPA having to act I think that perhaps that could give a needed pressure, but I think it remains to be seen. I mean it's there looming, it's coming, and folks are at the table trying to figure it out and companies are trying to understand it. I mean the nice thing about comprehensive climate bill is that you did have those investments to help, for example, manufacturers retool and assist in the efforts to meet certain standards and regs. but with just straight regs, you don't have sort of that money flowing in and certain assistance that's needed, border measures, tariffs and so forth that were part of the negotiations. So perhaps as folks start to get more nervous about them, maybe then we'll see action, but ...
Monica Trauzzi: Do you think the Rockefeller effort has any legs?
Yvette Pena Lopes: It doesn't look like it lately actually. It's sort of kind of an ebb and flow. It's almost sort of climate, every week, does it have legs? No. So I think it's there at the moment.
Monica Trauzzi: Let's switch gears for a moment. 2010 was filled with a series of major deadly events in fossil fuels industries. What needs to be done to ensure that workers are protected and that taxpayers aren't stuck with the bill for the cleanup for these events?
Yvette Pena Lopes: Sure. Well, first and foremost we need to pass real OSHA reform. It hasn't been reformed in quite some time and so we need to ensure that workers are protected in today's age, because it's been over 20 years. And so there has been an effort in the House and in the Senate to try and move it. They called it, you know, after the late Senator Byrd in hopes that in light of the mining accidents and so forth that that will assist in the movement, but we're still seeing it stall. More than 50 workers have been killed in this last year between the BP oil spill, the Tesoro, you know, the mine blast and so forth, so that's really first and foremost. What we need is OSHA reform and then of course there was a BP oil spill bill. I shouldn't call it BP, the oil spill bill, that in July Senator Reid, or Majority Leader Reid introduced that has also stalled, has not really seen the light of day and so those liability issues definitely need to be addressed. And hopefully will so by the end of the year, but that remains to be seen. But there's a real effort in the House with Chairman Miller, Speaker Pelosi and others wanting to move this forward to finally give some of those worker protections and whistleblower protections and real liability and accountability for the companies.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we're going to end it there.
Yvette Pena Lopes: Wonderful, thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Yvette Pena Lopes: No, thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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