State of the Union

Lawmakers react to Obama's energy proposals

With all eyes on the economy, President Obama's third speech before a joint session of Congress steered clear of addressing climate change. Instead, he proposed an 80 percent clean energy standard by 2035. Can lawmakers move clean energy legislation this year? In this E&ETV Special Report, Monica Trauzzi speaks with Chairman Doc Hastings (R--Wash.), Rep. Bruce Braley (D--Iowa), Rep. Lee Terry (R--Neb.), and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D--Ore.), following the President’s State of the Union address for their reactions on his proposals.


Monica Trauzzi (Introduction): With all eyes on the economy, the president's third State of the Union address focused on job creation, deficit reduction and clean energy development, but no mention of climate change. Has the administration made a significant shift on energy and environment issues? We spoke to members of Congress immediately after the speech for their reactions.

Monica Trauzzi: Mr. Chairman, a big focus on clean energy tonight. No mention of climate change. Is this a shift for the president?

Doc Hastings: Well, I'm not sure, but I want to measure his words by his past actions. I'm very much in favor of an all-of-the-above energy plan. His actions have always been to favor one sector over another and when he mentioned, you know, various things that he wanted to work on, listen, I'm in favor of that, but it shouldn't be at the expense of other energy sectors. We should have a level playing field and let the consumer figure out where they want to be.

Monica Trauzzi: Clean energy would seemingly include nuclear, clean coal, natural gas. Is that a step forward for him?

Doc Hastings: Well that's good, but he didn't mention hydro for example, which is, obviously, in clean energy. Listen, all of the above includes all of the above, but I don't think it's in our best interest long-term, from a security standpoint even, to ignore the abundance of oil and gas and coal that we have. And I think that the way that we need to proceed is use the ingenuity of American people to make these resources cleaner. Now, he alluded to that, I applaud him for that and I'm willing to work with him on that.

Monica Trauzzi: And a lot of this will happen through innovation and he'd like to pay for innovation by repealing oil subsidies. Is that something that you would support?

Doc Hastings: Listen, the end result of that is to raise gas prices right now when oil is, you know, going up in price. I'm not sure that's what the American consumer wants and, furthermore, I'm not sure it would be a good idea to raise taxes on any sector of our economy while our economy is still trying to improve.

Monica Trauzzi: There was no talk about the Clean Air Act or EPA’s regulation of emissions. I know there's a big push within your party to try to stop or pause EPA's regulation of emissions. Does that have any legs for this year?

Doc Hastings: Well, you know, interestingly enough, he mentioned in his speech and he alluded specifically to the Interior Department as it relates to the governance of salmon. Now, just to take that very general, he talked about overlap. Listen, there is all whole lot of overlap in the right sort of discussion when you talk about how clean air interacts with different sectors of our economy and energy and so forth. So, from that standpoint, in many respects, he's inviting us to look at what he's doing with the regulatory scheme. As a matter of fact, he even talked about regulations and those regulations have slowed down our economy. So, he's given us an opportunity, I think, to work with him, I'm more than willing to do so.

Monica Trauzzi: He's giving you the opportunity, but are the votes therefore something like that to pass and would he ever sign it?

Doc Hastings: Well, we'll just have to see. I mean, we're going to have an open and transparent process, you know, as the speaker has wanted. That's really how legislation ought to be developed. Everybody has an opportunity and at the end of the day we'll see what happens.

Monica Trauzzi: This idea of using the appropriations process to try to get something through, do you think that's likely?

Doc Hastings: Well, listen, we're in a new era. You know we have to pass and we have to address continuing funding the government until the end of September, that we do know. The appropriators are working on the package right now that, you know, cuts spending, because that's one of the lessons of this election. And so we'll just have other opportunities.

Monica Trauzzi: Were you sitting next to a Democrat tonight?

Doc Hastings: Pardon me?

Monica Trauzzi: Were you sitting next to a Democrat?

Doc Hastings: I was, I was sitting next to my good friend Norm Dicks from Washington and John Tierney from Massachusetts.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, great, thank you Mr. Chairman.

Doc Hastings: You bet.

Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, tonight the president focused on clean energy. No mention of climate change. What do you think about this push for 80 percent clean energy by 2035?

Bruce Braley: Well, it was interesting because I was sitting next to a friend of mine from Colorado who served on the Energy and Commerce Committee with me when we put an enormous amount of energy on the committee to get a bill to the floor to address the substantial problem we face with climate change and diversifying our energy economy. And her comment to me was, “Wow, that's ambitious.” We know that we have to do more to diversify our energy economy and we have to give consumers greater choices, but we have to also make sure that we have a commitment at a state, local, and national level to make this a priority. That's why we went through the tough debate we did on the Energy and Commerce Committee to talk about these important issues and bring people from all over the country who had very differing viewpoints on where we should go to promote our energy portfolio. But this is the time, our kids are engaged in this back home. They believe it's something that is a moral obligation for this country and that's why we need to get back to a candid conversation on how we could do this better.

Monica Trauzzi: So, would you be in favor of a clean energy standard that includes nuclear, clean coal, natural gas?

Bruce Braley: Well, when we debated those very issues when we were putting together the Clean Energy and Security Act, we had to make compromises to get a bill out that got broad-based support. So we had people at the committee who had problems with the concept of clean coal. You look at my state of Iowa, it has an enormous dependency on coal. A lot of the utilities in my state depend on the source of cheap coal to provide electricity and so what you have to do is continue to look at the reality of your current economic energy needs and demands and, at the same time, create incentives so people have the opportunity to diversify because it's the right thing to do and it's economically feasible. So, I'm in favor of looking at every opportunity as long as it moves us in a direction of safety, better environmental health for all of us, and one that diversifies our energy portfolio and reduces our dependence on foreign oil.

Monica Trauzzi: And where does ethanol play into all of this?

Bruce Braley: Well, ethanol is a huge industry in the state of Iowa and it was like many of the biofuel industries was on a roller coaster as we struggled with the tax incentive package that we couldn't get passed through the Senate. And what happens is when producers have that type of uncertainty and volatility they lay people off, plants go empty and people are unemployed. So, what I think we need to do is have an energy policy that recognizes where we are in the current short-term and looks at the most dynamic research available in research institutions like my home state that are doing a lot to look at other types of feedstocks from Africa and Asia and the Indian subcontinent that may be able to produce a more efficient form of biofuels. So, I introduced the New Era Act to try to create partnerships between community colleges, private businesses, and the next generation of researchers and technicians in biofuels and renewables like wind energy. My state is the number two wind energy producer in the country behind Texas. So, what we want to do is continuing to explore a lot of different energy options. But the biggest problem is making it economically feasible so that it can be used and is more widely available to people who want to move into greener forms of energy.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, thank you for your time, congressman.

Bruce Braley: You're welcome, thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Thank you. Congressman, no mention of climate change tonight. Is that a surprise to you and is this a shift for the president?

Lee Terry: Well, I think it is a shift, it is a shift for the president. He's talking about developing clean energies for the future and didn't mention nuclear and clean coal technologies. Those are two things that he wasn't discussing when we had the cap-and-trade debate. So, I think he's shifting because he knows that's where America is and where the sweet spot of Congress is.

Monica Trauzzi: Eighty percent clean energy by 2035, is that doable? How do we get there?

Lee Terry: If we do nuclear, clean coal technology and natural gas, the three items he said, we can do that and that's the type of infrastructure we need to invest in. As long as we're—roads are great too, we need to get to wherever we're going, but we also need to turn on the lights and power our computers too, so we need electrical generation. We need to free ourselves from foreign oil and those are things that can help us. Natural gas is a key component.

Monica Trauzzi: Is there a willingness from your party to work with the other party, work with the other side and try to get some legislation passed?

Lee Terry: Absolutely, we want to work together and I just — I hope this isn't a ruse of some type. You know, we’ll say let's expand natural gas, but then ban drilling techniques that we can get to it. So it can't be a ruse. But if he's serious about this, we’ll help him get to be energy independent and 80 percent or 85 percent clean technologies by 2035. We can do it.

Monica Trauzzi: The president called for increased innovation and he would like to see that paid for by repealing oil company tax breaks. Is that something you would support if it came up?

Lee Terry: Well, I don't know. That's a good point, because when we talk about tax breaks for the big oil companies, what we're really talking about is the same things that any manufacturers get. So, what you're going to say is we're going to tax one industry more than another. The other thing about the taxes on or eliminating or more taxes on oil companies, we always think of BP Amoco or Exxon Mobil, but the reality is most of our production is done by small companies that really need that tax advantage to be able to produce. So, if we want to punish the mom-and-pop operations that provide us the majority of our resources, then raising taxes on them is going to punish them.

Monica Trauzzi: No talk about the Clean Air Act or EPA's regulation of emissions tonight. There are so many proposals to block EPA from moving forward with regulation, do you think that any of those will actually get through?

Lee Terry: No, unfortunately, in my eyes unfortunately, but we're going to try. I will tell you in our Energy and Commerce Committee that is one of our top priorities, is to get a bill out that blocks the EPA from regulating CO2.

Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, thank you for your time.

Lee Terry: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Thank you. Congressman, tonight the president's energy focus was on clean energy, but there was no mention of climate change in his speech. Does this mark a significant shift for you when it comes to energy and environment issues?

Earl Blumenauer: Well, I think the president is acknowledging that with Republicans in control of the House that there will be no initiatives that deal with climate change per se. They've abolished the special panel on climate change. There's a majority of the new members that are coming in that do not believe in the climate science. So, from my vantage point, for him focusing on energy and some things that are actual areas of potential accomplishment makes more sense. The irony is that the rest of the world is galloping ahead around the globe. Businesses in America are moving ahead. Local governments, universities, churches are all moving in this direction. It may be a little while before Congress catches up. Ultimately we will, but I think the president was just speaking to reality.

Monica Trauzzi: And this idea of a clean energy standard that includes nuclear, clean coal, natural gas, is that something that both Democrats and Republicans can get onboard with?

Earl Blumenauer: Well, he's actually sort of lowering the bar. So, it's probably easy to do, but if we get more definition about something that is more meaningful, there might be a little contention. I would prefer more specificity. A majority of states have renewable energy standards. I would like to see a little more teeth in what the federal government buys, but we'll take what we can get.

Monica Trauzzi: This is going to take some bipartisanship. Do you think there's willingness from both sides to work together this year?

Earl Blumenauer: Well, Senator Lugar yesterday made a very good speech on energy conservation. There are, as I mentioned, the other developments that are taking place with business and local government and other things around the globe. So I think we're making — I think we're going to see some progress, but it's not going to be with much help from the federal government probably this year.

Monica Trauzzi: The president didn't defend EPA's regulation of emissions in his speech. There are many efforts to block EPA. Do you think those efforts will have any legs, succeed this year?

Earl Blumenauer: I think not. I mean the president was talking about reasonable regulation. He was focused on that. He didn't wade into that element, but I think he's been clear in the past. The EPA's doing some reasonable things after it's sort of been missing in action for the better part of a decade. I'm satisfied that those elements will remain in EPA's arsenal. We would all rather that it wasn't done through the courts or through administrative action, but rather a policy framework and I for one am not giving up on it, but I do think that this year is going to be tough sledding.

Monica Trauzzi: The president would like to see oil subsidies repealed in order to pay for innovation. Is that something you would support?

Earl Blumenauer: I've introduced legislation like that in the last Congress. It makes absolute sense. We shouldn't be investing in energy in the past. We should instead be doing things that are going to give us energy for the future. Oil subsidies are absolutely unnecessary and wasteful. We can do better and I applaud the president for mentioning it.

Monica Trauzzi: Who were you sitting next to tonight, an R or a D?

Earl Blumenauer: Well, actually, I was — immediately on my left was a Republican, Joe Barton, and we joked a little bit about some of the lines there. But I thought the mixed seating actually was a positive thing. I thought it was a different tone for the chamber.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, thank you.

Earl Blumenauer: You bet.

Monica Trauzzi: Whether Republicans and Democrats will successfully come together on a clean energy standard remains to be seen. For E&ETV, I’m Monica Trauzzi.

[End of Audio]



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