Energy Policy

Former Sen. Lincoln talks prospects for energy bill passage

How will this week's U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision to reject an attempt by 15 states to block U.S. EPA from finalizing its Clean Power Plan impact the debate on the plan as a final rule is set to be released this summer? During today's OnPoint, former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), principal of the Lincoln Policy Group, explains why she believes the Obama administration has overreached on several major regulations coming out of EPA. She also talks about timing issues that could derail attempts to move an energy package through Congress this year.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is former Senator Blanche Lincoln. Senator Lincoln is founder and principal of the Lincoln Policy Group. Senator Lincoln, thank you for joining me.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln: Thanks for having me, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Senator, the D.C. Circuit Court this week rejected an attempt by 15 states to block EPA from finalizing its Clean Power Plan. How does this decision affect the dynamic of the discussion on the plan as we await a final rule this summer?

Sen. Blanche Lincoln: Well, I think what people locally are thinking and in states and in industry all across the country is, you know, we've -- we're moving in the right direction, the economy's starting to pick up, we're seeing those kind of things happen. The last thing in the world we need to see is our power rates go up, our energy rates go up. I think that people are also seeing -- and I hope the president is seeing that some of what he -- you know, he has started to do and wanted to accomplish and his environmental issues is beginning to work, but that taking steps that are going to make it much more difficult, one, for businesses and industries to participate in it and still be able to make a living and hire people and keep Americans working and feeding their children and all those kind of things is going to become more and more difficult if, in fact, he tries to take too many more steps forward without letting what he's done come to fruition. And I think -- you know, I think this is one of those things, without a doubt. You're talking about higher energy rates more than likely, and I just think there's a lot of opportunities out there for us to deal with the need for energy in this country in ways that are probably more beneficial to the environment.

Monica Trauzzi: So what do you -- what do you think are the good steps that he's taken so far, beyond the Clean Power Plan, that effectively address the environmental concerns that exist right now?

Sen. Blanche Lincoln: Well, one of them, I think, is the ozone. You know, we've seen a 20 percent decrease since 2000. We've got cities, communities and businesses and industries trying to comply. They're working towards compliance. And again, you've got an effort here where they want to go further, and the fact is, you know, let things work that are working. But to move forward on something like that, what is it going to do to communities that are trying to build industries and jobs that are going to put people back to work? You know, I think that you've gotten a real outcry from at least almost half -- nearly half of the governors talking about economic development and the differences that we've made and what this -- what taking those next steps would mean. So, you know, I think -- I think it's just very important for the president to recognize that he's worked hard to get a good record on some of these things and he's moved forward, but the fact is there's a lot of places where, you know, you can go too far and it's -- it's going to hurt the economy and it's -- it's going to cost us.

Monica Trauzzi: But EPA does consider cost versus benefits when they put these rules together. Do you think that they've just not effectively done so in these cases?

Sen. Blanche Lincoln: Well, they do have to do cost-benefit, but not all -- not everything is taken into consideration on that. When you talk about job creation or you talk about jobs, that's not necessarily in there per se on a line item. And I think that's what people want to see, you know, talked about is that we're bringing our economy back, we've got great opportunities, we've got a unique opportunity in the amount of energy that we're producing in this country in natural gas, but -- and we're making strides, as I said, even in the ozone. But there's just complications that happen. I watched, in representing a state that's bordered by other states, you know, the fact that we had a small community that was working hard to create and attract industry, and they were getting, because of the way that the wind drifted, they were getting emissions from another state, across the river. And when I called EPA, they said, well, those monitors are there for a reason. I said, "Yeah, but they're in my state, in my community that's not producing the emissions." And all of a sudden, we're going to have to -- you know, if we were to be put on that nonattainment, it would be impossible for those small communities to be able to bring in the industries. They're not going to go there when they find a community like that that gets put on a nonattainment.

Monica Trauzzi: Back to this week's decision on the power plan. Senator Inhofe, following the decision, said it's a short-lived technical obstacle in overturning the president's economically disastrous Clean Power Plan. We've heard about attempts in Congress to either stop EPA or halt the rule in some way. Do you think that those will work? Do you think the votes are there? Do you think the momentum exists in Congress to stop EPA?

Sen. Blanche Lincoln: Well, what I don't think will happen is I don't think we will reach the goals that we want to reach in terms of clean air goals and -- and reducing carbon emissions in this country until we look at all of the possible opportunities. Now, I sat on the Energy Committee. I worked extensively with Senator Domenici in a bipartisan way on nuclear energy. In a state like Arkansas, we have hydropower. None of those get credit in terms of producing a non-carbon-emitting power source, not to mention the fact it's non-carbon-emitting, but it is full time, 24-7. It's a baseload that is reliable. They don't get credit for their reliability. So I think that the picture of what people want, people also have to be realistic about making sure that everybody's at the table in order to be able to reach that picture.

Monica Trauzzi: EPA's inspector general recently reported to Congress a series of incidents of misconduct at the agency among employees. What impact do you think that has on the agency's work as they're rolling out these major rules and on overall morale at the agency?

Sen. Blanche Lincoln: Well, I think it's a distraction. There's no doubt it's a distraction. I mean, if -- if your team is being, you know, looked upon and -- and reprimanded in some ways for things that may be happening, you know, I think it is a distraction. And again, you know, something like the ozone, where even the president said in 2011 that, you know, maybe this is something too costly for right now. At least he put it on hold. Well, it's still going to cost $15 billion to the economy to take that next step. Why not put something like that off when we know that we've seen a 20 percent reduction since 2000? And, you know, when you look at the clean water, the Clean Water Acts or the Waters of the U.S., you know, everybody wants clean water and they want clean air, but when you get into the detail and the lack of predictability of where these different units from different governing agencies come into all the different places in the United States, and all of a sudden, you've got a -- you've got a ditch or a gully and it empties into a -- you know, a city place, that empties into a bayou, that empties into a creek, that empties into another creek and then goes into -- and all of a sudden, your little gully is determined by whichever agency's looking at it, Waters of the U.S. And those are tough. Those are tough. ____ agency that's distracted doesn't need to be trying to push something that hasn't been completely vetted.

Monica Trauzzi: A final question for you. As you said, you served on the Energy Committee while in the Senate. There seems to be growing momentum on the idea of moving an energy bill this year. Do you think the right players are in place this time around to push it toward -- to the finish line?

Sen. Blanche Lincoln: It's tough. We tried to do -- and we got a bipartisan energy bill out of the Senate Energy Committee. Was that 2007? I believe it was. And we worked hard to do that. I think the refocus on regular order, which Mitch McConnell's put into place, I think it's a great thing. I told Mitch the other day, I said, "I'm proud of you for going there because committees are where you need to do the work, it's where you need to get the research done and the facts out there and the conversations happening, the consensus built on what can be a consensus and then figure out what the tough items are going to be. So I would like to think -- I don't know, it's going to be tough because they're going to have to get it pretty quickly. I have tremendous respect for Lisa and Maria, both great women who are very focused on doing good things and working with their colleagues on both sides of the aisle, so I think there's some possibilities there, but you're going to run out of time pretty quick around this town because you know once you get past September, then all of a sudden it's a race to the end of the year, and in November starts the presidential elections and most people lose their span of attention.

Monica Trauzzi: That is Washington in a nutshell. Thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate your time.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln: Thanks, Monica. Appreciate you having me.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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