With all eyes on U.S. EPA as it is expected to move forward with air regulations during President Obama's second term, can the administration employ both a strong and a sensible approach to environmental regulation? During today's OnPoint, Manik Roy, vice president for strategic outreach at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), discusses his expectations for climate policy, EPA regulation and Keystone XL for the next four years. He also weighs in on how changes to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's leadership will affect its agenda.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Nicky Roy, vice president for strategic outreach at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Nicky, it's great to have you back on the show.
Manik Roy: It's great to be back.
Monica Trauzzi: Nicky, climate change was all but off the agenda heading into the elections. Will it come back to the agenda during a second Obama term, and in what form?
Manik Roy: Climate change was off the agenda, but a decent surrogate for clean energy was definitely on the agenda, and I think it was fairly sharply part of the agenda. Let's look at what didn't work in the election. Attacking Solyndra didn't work. Attacking gasoline prices didn't work. Keystone XL didn't work. Making fun of climate change didn't work. Attacking EPA didn't work, and it didn't not just work at the presidential level. The war on coal didn't seem to be enough to win over Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio. It didn't work in a bunch of the Senate races as well. It didn't damage the Democratic brand, so I think one thing you can clearly say from this election is that the theory that even in economic tough times wrapping yourself around the conventional use of fossil fuel is a winning strategy. That was not supported for this election. So, what does that mean for climate change? I think climate change sort of did come in every now and then, maybe in sort of a dog-whistle way, I think, even in the victory speech, which I think is significant and I'm told is significant, so I think it will come back one way or the other.
Monica Trauzzi: Following the election, CCES released a statement saying it urges the president to ensure the EPA pushes forward with strong sensible greenhouse-gas standards and allows states to meet them with market-based approaches. Many people believe that these standards cannot be both strong and sensible. How does the administration avoid an economic catastrophe while still addressing emissions through regulation?
Manik Roy: I think the secret there is actually there is the market-based mechanism that appears to be allowed by the provision in the Clean Air Act, in which the greenhouse gases will be regulated, but I agree with the implication of our question that there's a balance that needs to be struck. I don't think there is a mandate to go out and do some crazy, aggressive regulating. I think there was a mandate to move forward in addressing these problems but to do it in a way that is consistent with economic growth.
Monica Trauzzi: The other term that we're hearing lately is carbon tax. Do you think that that's going to come up as part of the discussions on the fiscal cliff, and how substantive will that be actually in that conversation?
Manik Roy: Well, so of course the two problems with carbon tax are carbon and tax, but listen to this list of conservative priorities: extending the Bush tax cuts, avoiding DOE sequestration, reducing corporate tax rates, reforming tax territoriality, reducing the deficit, reforming entitlements. Those are all very high conservative priorities. Realistically, none of them get done without additional revenue. Carbon tax and value-added tax, I'm told, are really the only two good candidates for that, so normally I would say carbon tax, forget it, but to the extent that these other things really, that they have champions who really want to address them, I think it has a shot. Plus, you have people in the conservative family, very respected economists and other opinion leaders, who have been advocates for it, and they're going to have to, before the election we were seeing a little bit of a back-and-forth between some of those folks and some of the folks that have been fighting the anti-climate action battle for several years sort of starting to tussle with each other. I actually think that has to be fought and at least to a draw before we can go forward on this, but I do think it's going to be on the table.
Monica Trauzzi: We may see some changes at the top of EPA, DOE. Who have you heard is in line for Lisa Jackson's position and Secretary Chu's position, and how difficult are those confirmations going to be?
Manik Roy: I hadn't heard anything more than anybody. Mary Nichols is a name that you hear floated around for EPA, but I'm not in any way informed in that. I think the confirmation process will be very significant, because the other thing that I think has happened as a result of this election is that Congress, the last Congress tried to stop a few regulatory actions and tried to stop a few things and they weren't really successful in doing that, and those attempts became a big part of the campaign, and it didn't succeed. I think this next Congress, in this next Congress it's going to be even tougher to stop regulatory actions, for example, through a congressional review act vote. And so that makes the confirmation process one of the few remaining levers that opponents of things that the administration will try and do have. So I think the confirmation process could be very tough.
Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned Keystone XL earlier. If the president does decide to move forward with a more aggressive climate agenda, is it possible to do both, approve Keystone XL and move forward on climate?
Manik Roy: The climate issue with Keystone is the full lifecycle implications of producing and using that oil. And there are probably more other direct and effective ways of dealing with that issue than dealing with the pipeline. If Keystone is not built along the route that's proposed through the Great Plains, the Canadians are looking at other options. It's hard to imagine that stopping that Great Plains is going to keep Keystone from getting to the world market. If we want to address the greenhouse-gas implications, and we do; we very much do, we think there are other ways of doing it more effectively.
Monica Trauzzi: Let's talk a bit about what's happening over on the Hill, Senate Energy and Natural Resources. Specifically Ron Wyden is expected to take the gavel of that committee. How will the tone and agenda change for that committee?
Manik Roy: Actually, I should say I think Senator Bingaman was a terrific legislator as well, I think, and Senator Wyden, I think, will be a great chairman, and Senator Murkowski has, she's been thoughtful on these issues and she's, also because of the way that she came to the Senate is somewhat less tethered to the Republican party than maybe others would be. But in this last Congress that didn't really, it didn't lead to anything, and I think just because a lot of the energy was coming from the more conservative side that didn't necessarily want to see a lot of these issues taken on. How effective the energy committee is, how effective the Wyden-Murkowski partnership is I think is as much dictated by what happens outside that committee as what is in the partnership between those two. If you get something out of that committee, is there a viable path forward through the Senate? Is there a viable path forward through the House?
Monica Trauzzi: Is Murkowski perhaps too moderate for the party, considering where Wyden's coming from? He's maybe a bit more to the left than Bingaman.
Manik Roy: Senator Murkowski comes from a state that oil is very important to that state, so I don't think, regardless of where she may be on other issues, I think she's going to be a very strong advocate for fossil fuels. At the same time, that's the state that's seeing the impacts of climate change in a very direct way, probably faster than the rest of the country, so, again, I think it's less a question of her and less a question of incoming Chairman Wyden than what they can get done if they find that their own partnership works.
Monica Trauzzi: We'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show. Nice to see you.
Manik Roy: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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