In his first State of the Union address before a Republican-controlled Congress, President Obama received strong, partisan reaction to his climate and energy proposals. In this E&ETV Special Report, members of Congress react to the president's statements on the science of climate change, Keystone XL and U.S. energy production. Lawmakers interviewed include Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas), Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), Gene Green (D-Texas), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Pete Olson (R-Texas) and Bob Latta (R-Ohio).
Monica Trauzzi: The president tonight delivering his first State of the Union address before a Republican-controlled Congress received strong partisan reaction to his energy and climate agenda. E&ETV spoke with lawmakers after the speech.
Congressman, the president tonight took aim at folks who don't believe the science of climate change. As someone who has questioned the science of it, how do you react to that?
Rep. Joe Barton: Well, it would be good if they'd actually release the so-called science that they claim to be supportive of. We haven't been able to get the EPA to release any of their base studies or anything like that. I think the climate is changing, but it's always changed. The question is, is it because of man-made emissions, and I'm not so sure that I agree with the president that that's the case. In the earlier part of his speech he took credit for oil and gas production going up, well, those are hydrocarbons. I'm very glad and supportive that the U.S. has increased its oil and gas production. I want us to export our natural gas surpluses, and I also want to remove the ban on crude oil exports so that we can also do that. That does help us, vis-à-vis the Russians, that he talked about, and to a lesser extent, OPEC and Saudi Arabia. But to say that climate change is a huge problem, it's kind of like the Tower of Babel. We give ourselves more credit than probably we're due.
Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, tonight the president really dug into the science of climate change, why do you think it was so important for him to go that route?
Rep. Paul Tonko: Well, first let me say that I was thrilled to hear those comments as the ranking member on the Subcommittee of the Environment and the Economy that reports to Energy and Commerce, and as the co-chair in the House's SEEC caucus, which is the Sustainable Energy and Environmental Coalition, it was music to the ears. I think he brought it up because it's about our future. It's about our children breathing cleaner air. Certainly we've seen asthma rates skyrocket. Where there's concern out there for our children, this is something that we could all agree upon. And it's also, for those practice a faith, every faith reminds us that we're directed by the text of that faith, the books that we follow, that we are indeed the stewards of our environment. So I think it was very important for him to mention it, and I have seen devastation in my district with 500-year storms, with repeat occurrences that have been very costly. They have eroded valuable farmland that have shut businesses, those events have cost lives, and they have destroyed housing.
Monica Trauzzi: The president also talked about our energy production, number one in oil and gas production, number one in wind power production. He talked about the surge in solar power. Is that the all-of-the-above energy policy?
Rep. Bill Johnson: Well, I certainly hope not, because the surge that he's talking about in the oil and gas production again is taking place on private lands, and it's taking place in spite of the president's policies, not because of them. For example, we've got dozens of liquid natural gas export permits that are sitting bottled up in the Department of Energy. I've got a bill that's going to be on the floor here in a week or so that's going to hopefully give the Energy Department some guidelines on approving those permits so we can put Americans to work and so we can make a statement to the rest of the world that America is a leader in energy production.
Monica Trauzzi: A major theme of the president's speech tonight was climate change. Why do you think it was so important for him to dig into the science of climate change?
Rep. Gene Green: Well, I think there are deniers, and I believe human existence has altered our climate. I think we may disagree on how we want to solve that problem though, but I think we need to address it, because throughout the history of mankind we've see changes, not always because of mankind. But I think there's a reasonable way we can do it that will not hurt our standard of living, and that's my concern.
Monica Trauzzi: And is the president's Clean Power Plan an effective approach?
Rep. Gene Green: Well, if it's worked out where EPA will also give the industry a chance not to cause electricity rates to go up and things like that. But I think there's a reasonable way to do it. You know, I'm from Texas, and our huge expansion of natural gas, we are helping solve the climate change problem because what we've done in our country, whether it be in a Marcellus Shale, in Ohio, in Pennsylvania or in Texas at the Eagle Ford or Barnett Shale, we're producing natural gas which is so much better than some other fuels. But we need to use that to also go to other ways we can generate electricity.
Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, the president tonight indirectly mentioned Keystone XL calling on Congress to not debate just one pipeline and rather focus on a bipartisan effort on infrastructure. Do you think that's possible?
Rep. Peter DeFazio: Well, there's a lot of talk around here about infrastructure and the need to invest in our nation's crumbling infrastructure. It solves a number of problems. Makes us obviously -- puts a lot of people back to work very quickly. We have strong Buy America requirements and that helps with the job effort. It would make the country more competitive internationally. It would help us with our problems with energy and with carbon pollution, because when people sit and idle in traffic and the roads are congested, that's a problem. So investment in infrastructure could have tremendous returns and it has historically been bipartisan. I would hope we can get back to that.
Monica Trauzzi: The president plans to continue to move forward with his Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions -- will this Congress continue to try to halt those efforts?
Rep. Pete Olson: Yes. President Obama is trying to destroy our economy; we can't let him do that. I mean fossil fuels are an important part of our transportation and power sectors. They're clean. We're the cleanest in the world. President Obama talked about climate change. Talk about China. How about China? They're producing more ozone that we get hit for here in America. Fourty percent of our ozone comes from unknown sources. Fourty percent, not coming from America. How can we fix the problem if we can't tell where it's coming from? So take a deep breath, stop, and use real science and real issues. Because what President Obama is trying to do also, he doesn't worry about health impacts. This is going to have dramatic impacts on health because of losing a job. It's over and over proven that if you don't work, no health care stress, your health is worse. Take some time, let's not hurt our economy, let's get a clean environment cleaner together. Work with us, not against us.
Monica Trauzzi: Keystone XL is not an energy policy though. The president did talk about some improvements and advancements in energy policy including oil and gas production, wind power production, a surge in solar power. Do those count in the mix?
Rep. Bob Latta: I'll tell you what. When the president's talking about what's happening with our natural gas and oil production in this country, what he's done is pretty much effectively closed off our exploration on the intercontinental shelf. When you're looking at here in the United States, when you're looking at the Western states especially where we have reserves out there on federal lands, he's not letting folks go out there and explore. What's happened is, but for the federal government, private industry is going out there with new technology and has developed these great natural gas and oil finds that have pulled down our gasoline prices, Americans have seen drop maybe $2 a gallon. But it's not what Washington has done; it's what private industry has done. So what we really need to have more is cooperation from the federal government coming up with the right regulations to make sure that we can go out there and explore, and again, to make us more North American energy independent. Because again, what the president's policies have done is pretty much said we're not going to be going out there, we're stopping this drilling, we're stopping that exploration, and that's not the way to do that.
Monica Trauzzi: Despite clear partisan divisions on the president's priorities, energy and climate issues are likely to dominate the congressional agenda throughout the year. For E&ETV, I'm Monica Trauzzi.
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