Energy Policy

Efficiency group's Callahan discusses challenges ahead for energy bill conference, prospects for efficiency measures

As top House and Senate lawmakers work to address hurdles facing an energy bill conference, environmental groups this week called on Democratic senators to vote against going to conference with the House. During today's OnPoint, Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, discusses the political dynamics at play and explains why she believes efficiency measures could help foster a constructive conversation between the two chambers.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. Kateri, it's nice to see you as always.

Kateri Callahan: It's so good to see you again, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Kateri, a Senate vote on an energy bill conference could happen as early as this week, and environmental groups have called on Senate Democrats to vote against going to conference due to the content of the House energy bill. Should Senate Democrats vote to go to conference?

Kateri Callahan: You know, I wouldn't sit here and pretend that I have an ability to tell senators what they should or shouldn't do, but what we are saying to the Senate, and to House leaders as well, is that if we're going to have a good product and we're finally going to get to an energy bill, comprehensive energy bill which we haven't had in nine years, the way forward, the path forward is to start with the energy efficiency title in the Senate bill. It is a title that will deliver big savings to American consumers and businesses on their energy bills, will avoid a lot of pollution, and most importantly has demonstrated huge bipartisan support in the Senate and in the House of Representatives as well. So we believe that if the conversations can start, whether they're -- and they are going on now -- outside of a conference and then getting to a conference, if they start talking about those sweet spots, those areas where there's bipartisan agreement and where we can do good for the country, then we think that they can find a path to getting a bill to the president's desk that he can sign.

Monica Trauzzi: But talking about efficiency doesn't necessarily solve some of those more challenging issues. I mean, do you -- are you hopeful and do you think it's actually possible that if they do go to conference they'll be able to get over those hurdles?

Kateri Callahan: You know, I'm hopeful that they will. I think -- you know, I take people at their word, and Congressman Upton, Congressman Bishop have said that they don't want to waste their time and they want to get a bill to the president's desk that can get signed and put into law, and the president's been very clear about what he's willing to sign and what he's not. And again, the Senate found a way to get to a bill that got a vote of 85 to 12 on a comprehensive energy bill, and hats off to Senator Murkowski, who's an honorary member of our board, and Senator Cantwell for getting that job done. So they demonstrated it can be done in one chamber. There's a stated intent in the other chamber to do the same thing. So, you know, I'm hopeful. I'm -- you know me, Monica, I'm pretty optimistic, but I'm hopeful that we can get to that point. It's really -- it's owed to the American people. The energy efficiency title that I talked about, Title I in the Senate bill, that's been being discussed and being debated for five years now, and the bipartisan support for it is huge. It came out of the Senate on a 20 to 2 vote, which is even a stronger vote than the comprehensive energy bill had, so I think it's the right path, and I think it's -- it shows that we can do things on energy that help the American public, and we can do it as Republicans and as Democrats.

Monica Trauzzi: But with the House in particular potentially at play in November, would it make sense for Democrats to opt to hold off and maybe revisit this next year?

Kateri Callahan: That's politics. I mean, you know, it's -- every day we delay is a delay in the savings and on the efficiency title that we could get. I mean, there's been work that's been done by ACEEE, a sister organization, and we could deliver $60 billion back into the economy with that efficiency title and the efficiency provisions that are in the Senate bill. We could avoid pollution equivalent to taking all the cars and trucks off the road for an entire year from this -- these sets of what are very modest and very low-cost provisions. Why delay on that? It doesn't -- to me, that just doesn't make sense that we wouldn't go ahead and do something that is good for the economy, is good for the environment, is good for American consumers and businesses and, you know, I think at least take that piece of it, move it on and let's get that behind us and go on to other things.

Monica Trauzzi: So you're confident if they go to conference that a bill that the president would be willing to sign would emerge.

Kateri Callahan: Oh no, I didn't say that. You put words into my mouth. I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful that it would. And I mean, again, that's the stated intent on both sides. So there's a long way to go, and the -- you know, there are obviously more differences in the House and Senate bill than there are similarities, and in fact, the alliance itself is opposed to H.R. 8 as it currently stands because it actually rolls back efficiency gains that we've made in this country, and the assessment is that it would cost $20 billion in extra energy costs, wasted energy that we don't need to use, and that translates into a lot more pollution, a lot more energy use, 10 more quads of energy it would add onto our energy consumption currently. Why go in that direction?

Monica Trauzzi: ... want to see that conversation getting started.

Kateri Callahan: I think if the conversation starts, and again, I think if people pay attention to where the public and where the businesses support energy policy, they're going to find their way to energy efficiency and they're going to find that they can meet on common ground and work together. There's no more magic in the Senate version of the energy efficiency title than the House. The House has done it. McKinley -- Congressman McKinley, Congressman Welch, again board members of the Alliance to Save Energy, they put their version of that bill forward. It's attracted strong bipartisan support. There's no reason not to go ahead and do it.

Monica Trauzzi: Predictions of whether a bill gets to the president's desk this year.

Kateri Callahan: So I said at the beginning I'm very optimistic, and I think we get something to the president's desk if it's built around that energy efficiency title, and let me say that people ought to give me some odds on that. It's not all long odds. We did get last year S. 535, the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act, to the president's desk, and I was so honored to be there in the Oval Office and watch him sign it. That's the first bipartisan energy bill that's been put to his desk in all of his eight years in office, then it was seven years, but given that, I think we can do it again. I see no reason why we can't find a path that gets us there, and if there are other provisions that go along with it that the president -- that can do good for the country and the president will sign. That's great, but even if it ends up that's all that the comprehensive energy bill is, it's a big good package for the American people.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. We'll end it there. I know you're always engaging and having conversations behind the scenes with all the relevant parties, so a lot to watch here. Thanks for coming on the show.

Kateri Callahan: Thank you, Monica.

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

[End of Audio]



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