State of the Union

Senate, House members react to President's climate and energy agenda

Making the case for a "year of action," President Obama highlighted curbing carbon emissions, expanding natural gas production and ending fossil fuel subsidies in his fifth State of the Union address. In this E&ETV Special Report, members of the Senate and House react to the president's climate and energy remarks. Lawmakers interviewed are: Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas).


Monica Trauzzi: Teeing up a year of action the president made the case for curbing carbon pollution, ending fossil fuel subsidies and expanding natural gas production in his fifth State of the Union address. We spoke to lawmakers immediately following the speech for their reactions.

Congressman, tonight the president spoke about his year of action agenda. What opportunities do you see within the Energy and Commerce Committee to move forward on that agenda?

Rep. Gene Green: Well, there are things I would hope that the Energy and Commerce Committee would do. One, by court decision the EPA has the authority to deal with greenhouse gases. I really think Congress needs to make those decisions. I don't think cap and trade's a solution, but I do think we ought to build on the success we've had that the president talked about. Over the last few years we've actually reduced our greenhouse gases in our country. Some of it was because of our downturn in our economy, but a great deal of it was because we're seeing more and more use of natural gas. And frankly, even coming from Texas where I do, I'm an oil and gas guy, but we actually have the highest production of electricity from wind power, and hopefully we'll do the same thing with solar. I think we can control carbon, but it needs to be a congressional decision and not necessarily an agency decision.

Monica Trauzzi: In fact, that is one of the things that he spoke about, taking some fossil fuel money and moving it over to newer technologies, newer fuels. What did you think of the sound of that?

Sen. John Hoeven: The one thing he talked about where I think he might be able to get some agreement in a bipartisan way is to look at the opportunities with natural gas. So you need again the infrastructure to get it from where we're producing it in states like mine where we have to flare it off because we don't have the pipelines and the infrastructure to move it to places like the Northeast where they badly need it, particularly with this cold winter. But we can also do exciting things like develop fertilizer plants, get our railway locomotives operating on natural gas instead of diesel. Again deploy the technology.

Monica Trauzzi: Has Congress been ruled out on climate action?

Rep. Peter DeFazio: Look, these people do not believe in climate change. They would say, "Oh, we're having a cold snap, there's no climate change." That's the kind of people I'm dealing with on the tea party right and some of my other colleagues in Congress. The president was definitive -- climate change is real, it is happening, we need to take action. They're trying to undo his rather modest actions in controlling coal plant and carbon dioxide pollution. At this point I don't see the Republicans and the House moving an inch on that issue. They don't believe in it. Or if they do believe in it, they don't care, because it's too much money to pretend it doesn't exist.

Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, tonight the president said his "all of the above" energy strategy is working. Would you agree?

Rep. Joe Barton: I would say our energy policy generally is working through no effort of his own. He talked about increased oil and gas production, it's up on private lands, it's down on federal lands. He's got 85 percent of the outer continental shelf off limits, but where we can drill and produce in states like Texas in the private sector, we're doing it, and we're the most competitive energy company in the world.

Monica Trauzzi: So based on what he said about capping carbon pollution, do you think that he's going to continue to move aggressively forward on his climate action plan? I know there have been attempts in the committee to stop EPA from moving forward.

Rep. John Shimkus: Well, actually we want EPA to apply the law, we want them to follow the law, which says you can't put and you can't force utilities to place on unproven technologies, it's not economically feasible. And that's true with carbon capture sequestration. You can look at the Mississippi plant that has $2 billion overrun and hundreds of millions of dollars in DOE funds. You can't use that to say it's economically feasible. So that's our problem with the EPA. It's not to stop them; it's to say, follow the law, and the law says you need to make sure that it's economically feasible. And let's just talk about also his taking credit for this glut of oil and natural gas, mostly on private property. No rule of the federal government. In fact, this administration has slowed up the process on federal lands to stop fracking. So it's the State of the Union speech, I don't expect him to be, I expect these large platitudes, but he really shouldn't try to take credit for stuff he has no credit in getting.

Monica Trauzzi: His approach on climate is the Climate Action Plan right now, do you anticipate based on what he said tonight that he's going to continue to move aggressively on that plan?

Rep. Rush Holt: He's going to do what he can unilaterally because he doesn't expect Congress to do much, and I think he's correct in that expectation, I'm sorry to say. You know, I looked at my colleagues across the aisle when he talked about climate change, and they were glum as could be. They didn't want to hear it, they didn't want to respond to it, they were saying no, in effect. So he's going to take a lot of actions. He's going to take regulatory actions, he's going to take actions with the federal use of energy, the federal government's use of energy, so he intends to do a lot. And we will continue to try to keep the pressure on so that sooner or later Congress will do a lot too, because there's a lot to be done.

Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, what are your thoughts on the emphasis the president placed tonight on climate and energy?

Rep. Bill Johnson: You know, I was really, really disappointed. He talked about climate control and climate change and he said it's a fact. I don't know where he's getting his "facts," but that's not what other scientists are saying. And when you're talking about our ability to provide our own energy and his attack again on fossil fuels, those fuels are what supply our energy needs today. We can't supply our energy needs using solar energy today. Is there a place for it in our future? Absolutely there is, but attacking fossil fuels today when America is the biggest producer of energy and gas and oil, we've got coal resources, the president is on the wrong page when it comes to energy independence and security. He talks about how close we are to energy independence and security in one breath and then he attacks the very fuels that are making it possible for us to be so in the next breath. So his words and his actions don't match, his policies are inconsistent around energy.

Monica Trauzzi: Has he ruled Congress out on climate specifically?

Rep. Paul Tonko: Well, he did mention climate change in a specific way, and he has taken action through executive order, and unless we respond I think he'll continue to do that.

Monica Trauzzi: There are efforts within the committee to stop EPA from moving forward with its power plant regulations that are laid out in the president's Climate Action Plan. Do you anticipate that he's going to continue to move aggressively forward with the Climate Action Plan?

Rep. Pete Olson: I do, I do. He said five times that I'll move forward if Congress does not act, and that's pretty clearly what his plan is the next two, three, four years, two, three years. And we passed in our committee today to put a check on him in terms of regulating new power plants, emissions with greenhouse gases. And this all is a subterfuge for the war on coal. He's trying to stop new coal in America. He's trying to use that to stop existing goal. In my home state of Texas, coal is about 30 percent of production right now, it's No. 2 just behind natural gas. We need coal for at least the next five or 10 years, there's no alternative, and yet the president is trying to destroy that.

Monica Trauzzi: Continued disagreement among lawmakers on the best path forward on energy and climate. For E&ETV, I'm Monica Trauzzi.

[End of Audio]



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