State of the Union

Lawmakers react to president's speech, comment on climate and energy outlook

Last night, President Bush delivered his final State of the Union address, highlighting the importance of clean energy innovations both internationally and domestically. In his remarks, the president proposed a $2 billion international clean technology fund and called for increased funding for carbon capture and sequestration technologies in the United States. He also urged the completion of an international climate agreement. During today's E&ETV Event Coverage of the State of the Union 2008, members of Congress including, Sens. John Warner (R-Va.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), react to the president's comments on energy and climate immediately following the speech.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to E&ETV's coverage of the State of the Union 2008. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Tonight the president focused on international efforts to cap greenhouse gas emissions, introducing a $2 billion clean technology fund. On the domestic front, he asked Congress to fund research and development of clean technology, including nuclear and clean coal. We spoke to several members of Congress immediately following the speech and here are their reactions. Tonight the president focused on international efforts. He didn't really talk about the domestic.

John Warner: Well, no, it's right here on page five. He made some steps forward on trying to posture the United States of America becoming a partner in the global warming debate and action. And I said posture and position. I wish he'd taken stronger steps, but at least it's significant that he put a substantial mention here of global warming and what we're trying to do.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what does this mean for the Democrats this year and your efforts to get a bill passed?

John Warner: Well, I think it's important that the Senate pass a bill because you've got to remember that unless we, this year, take steps you're going to have to wait a minimum of a year with the next president, whoever that might be, to come in and start anew to move the Congress. And each year we lose other nations like China and India literally hide behind the skirts of the United States of America and say, "We're not going to move until America moves." Now, those two nations have to take a full partnership, as I'm urging America, to make this thing work because the three of us are the three major polluters.

Monica Trauzzi: Is the U.S. though moving on the international scale? At the end of this week there's going to be a major emitters meeting, a major economies meeting in Hawaii. Is the president taking steps on the international scale to cap emissions?

John Warner: Well, look at the Bali conference. It took place in September. Clearly, the representatives from the United States, in other words, non-governmental people, were not satisfied with what the delegation did in Bali from the United States. They fell way short of what many of us had hoped would be a step forward by the United States.

Monica Trauzzi: How likely do you think it is that your bill will be able to pass the Senate?

John Warner: Well, all I can say is that we, Senator Lieberman and I and a number of Republicans, I'm not all alone on this, Democrats are very solid on it. And I think the Republicans, particularly those running for reelection, are going to recognize they can't go back home and say, in an empty message, "We haven't done anything about global warming." Because there are many, many citizens, conscientious, irrespective of politics, that are concerned, as I am, about the condition of our environment as a consequence of this global warming phenomenon. I say phenomenon because there's still diversity in the scientific community. But each day, it seems to me, there's a growing body of evidence that points to the greenhouse gases as causing various perturbations in our weather problems.

Monica Trauzzi: Were you surprised by the amount of time that he spent discussing these issues?

Mary Landrieu: Well, it's appropriate because it's a very important issue before the country and, frankly, in my view we couldn't talk about it enough because I think the challenge is maintaining our traditional strength in traditional sources of energy from an oil and gas producing state. We need to be opening up more domestic fields of gas and oil now that technology has shown us how we can do this safely, minimizing the footprint, environmental footprint. But I was somewhat disappointed I didn't hear him push for more revenue sharing right here at home. He talked about revenue sharing in Iraq, but if we had more revenue sharing at home I think it would engage the local communities around this country to think, well, we can produce more oil. We can produce more gas. I was happy to hear him talk about nuclear. That is a very important, not new frontier, but we have to sort of reform, retool our nuclear initiative. But he could've gone into more depth in that as far as I was concerned.

Monica Trauzzi: Drilling domestically remains controversial in Congress. As you said, he mentioned it tonight. Looking to 2008, I mean any chance of something like that moving forward?

Mary Landrieu: I hope so. I hope to fashion the really extraordinary compromise among Democrats and Republicans in the last Congress to open up 8.3 million new acres in the Gulf and to establish, for the first time in the history of the nation, a revenue-sharing provision for America. Again, we're promoting revenue sharing in Iraq, but not promoting revenue sharing at home. It doesn't make much sense. So the bill that I was able to pass does establish that as a policy that says when you drill for oil and gas offshore and onshore, not only does the federal government benefit, but state and local counties and parishes benefit. That puts everybody's skin in the game, if you will, and makes sure that everybody is moving in the right direction to open up more domestic production, which is important. While we're doing that, we need to fight for new frontiers in energy, for getting our energy from corn, from sugarcane, from switchgrass, opening up solar, promoting nuclear. We need to reduce our foreign dependency and promote more domestic industry. Not only does it help us balance our energy gap in exports and imports, but it creates jobs and high paying jobs in new technologies. So, we couldn't talk about it enough. Being a member of the Energy Committee I think it really is the issue of the decade and doing it in a way that helps our atmosphere to be cleaner and really promotes clean air and clean water.

Monica Trauzzi: As far as capping emissions though, he really focused more internationally. He didn't really talk about the domestic efforts. There's a lot happening in the Senate right now with the Lieberman-Warner bill passing through EPW. Were you at all disappointed that he did not focus on the domestic front and really focused on what we're doing internationally and how the U.S. is promoting international movement?

Mary Landrieu: Well, I would like to see America be more aggressive in terms of opportunities for cap and trade, but I am mindful that if we are too aggressive it puts our manufacturing base at a distinct disadvantage and we have such competition now from China, from India, and from emerging South American nations as well. So we've got to have that balance. But, again, I don't think there's a more important issue really before the American people right now than this frontier, pushing forward the frontier on clean energy technologies. And I think it will have such long-term benefits for us as a nation, as a planet, and for economic expansion right here in America.

Maria Cantwell: I think the president, in every one of his State of the Union addresses, has talked about energy. I think the issue is that the rhetoric he usually has doesn't match the emphasis and attention to that when it comes to passing legislation. So, I think that while he understands the American public really is concerned about energy security and moving forward, we need an administration that's going to be much more aggressive in actually passing and implementing solutions.

Monica Trauzzi: On climate change he really focused on international efforts. He said that the administration, the U.S., is leading the international community in creating a post-2012 climate agreement. Would you agree with that? Do you think that this administration is paving the way for the international community?

Maria Cantwell: Well, I think it was followed by a sentence too that the United States would only act if everyone else did. And I think what's really needed is an aggressive policy by the United States that shows that energy security is not only good for the environment, but it is good economically. It creates jobs and it certainly brings us together in an international community in a way of which the United States could play a leadership role in the technology and get the rest of the world to actually standardize on some of the solutions that we have. So, I think he misses that big opportunity that's out there. I'm glad that he at least mentions energy in these speeches and certainly glad that they were supportive of the bills that were passed by Congress last year. But I think during this time period we could have been much more aggressive on energy policy.

Monica Trauzzi: But he did also comment on engaging India and China more in setting up this fund.

Maria Cantwell: The Clean Energy Fund is a great idea and a lot of people have talked about that, but the United States could, by incenting the green energy industries here in United States, give them more predictability so that we could move ahead in actually having these industries be competitive on the world stage. So that it isn't everybody else, Denmark with wind, and the Asian countries with automobiles, and everybody else. So, again, the rhetoric hasn't matched the reality of what's taken place. And while it's great to talk about a clean energy fund, let's get these production tax credits and the investment for energy efficiency done here as policy in the United States, so the United States can play a leadership role.

Monica Trauzzi: What do his comments this evening mean for the year ahead for Democrats as the Democrats try to get a cap-and-trade bill to the floor?

Maria Cantwell: Well, I think that it means that we are going to have to work very aggressively. I think the administration kind of showed that they were interested in the area. As I said, every speech has included something on energy, but the administration has to be much more aggressive. And so Congress will be aggressive about it, but have a big challenge in trying to get the administration to show real leadership and show the United States can lead on solutions that really the rest of the global world is looking to us to participate in.

Monica Trauzzi: And something several Democrats haven't supported up until this point is domestic drilling for oil and it's something that the president continues to support and he stressed this evening. Thoughts on that? Is that something you see happening at any point in your future or will Congress continue to be resistant?

Maria Cantwell: Well, we only have 3 percent of the world's oil reserves, so we're not going to drill our way to energy independence. And we can make up for what we don't have in oil with these other solutions, with wind, with solar, with energy efficiency that saves money on the electricity grid, with renewable fuels. And that's what we have to get aggressive about. So Congress is going to do that. Hopefully we'll put a lot of good legislation on the president's desk.

Monica Trauzzi: Any surprise about the amount of time he spent talking about these issues?

Earl Blumenauer: Well, I was underwhelmed. I mean the speech itself was sort of tired and kind of a resuscitation of things that had been talked about before, including many things that he couldn't even get through when the Republicans controlled everything. But I must confess that I was more than a little surprised that there wasn't some passion, energy, and specifics about global warming and energy. You know, he mentioned our addiction to oil last year, but there's been so much that's happened in the last year, where Congress pushed through an energy bill, dealt with fuel-efficiency standards, and when there is a growing consensus around the world of urgency. And I just thought this was a tremendous wasted opportunity for an administration that will be known as much for its failure to deal with climate change and global warming as for the disaster in Iraq.

Monica Trauzzi: He did talk about the international efforts though and he said that the U.S. is leading the international community when it comes to creating a post-2012 climate agreement. Would you agree with that?

Earl Blumenauer: No!

Monica Trauzzi: Do you think that the administration is leading?

Earl Blumenauer: Hogwash. I mean there were repeated opportunities this last year and where the administration has stepped back. I mean in Bali they were shamed into the most minimal steps. I was in Europe when they pulled the rug out from underneath what Chancellor Merkle was trying to do with the E.U. I mean we have repeatedly fallen short of the mark and to suggest that we're leading anything dealing with climate change, other than being the last remaining anchor, is ludicrous.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what do his comments this evening means for the Democrats' efforts to push through a cap-and-trade bill this year?

Earl Blumenauer: It means nothing. I mean this administration could have set forth a partnership that they are going to move forward with something that's aggressive. I'm interpreting those comments as that anything that hints of capturing and reallocating value is going to be rejected as a tax. There was no alternative vision that was offered. And as I say, the notion that we are supplying leadership flies in the face of the performance at every international opportunity that the administration has had to reverse its foot dragging.

Monica Trauzzi: He also focused on expanding nuclear, clean coal, solar, wind. We just passed an energy bill at the end of 2007. Is there room for another piece of energy legislation this year, especially considering that it's election year? Can we move on these issues?

Earl Blumenauer: Well, I think what we're seeing is that there is growing interest and support from the public. There are certain things that I am quite confident we will do. I mean I think we will not allow the energy production tax credit to expire and be the death of, for example, wind energy in this country until we get a new administration and a new Congress. There are going to be opportunities. This administration has just missed an opportunity to provide the leadership.

Tom Udall: I was very hopeful with this speech, because really we've started this year as a bipartisan Congress, working with the president on the economy, and that's really set the tone. And I'm hoping that these issues that he mentioned, the international fund to have countries cooperate and put money in on global warming, that's something that's very hopeful. And so I really hope that we can proceed in a bipartisan way and get a lot done on these issues. But it's clear we've got a lot of unfinished business on the environment. We don't have a renewable electricity standard. We don't have a cap-and-trade system in place. There are a lot of things that we really need to work on.

Monica Trauzzi: But he did talk about more of a focus on pushing solar, wind, also clean coal, nuclear. What did you think about that?

Tom Udall: Well, I think it's important that we proceed in that direction, that we do it in a rapid fashion, and we get something done this year before the presidential campaign really heats up.

Monica Trauzzi: On the climate change front he did seem to focus more on international efforts, saying that the U.S. is leading the way internationally. Do you believe that this administration is leading the way for the international community?

Tom Udall: I don't think Congress and this administration are leading the way yet. Fuel efficiency is a good start, but we should be out there on the renewable electricity standard. We should be out there on a cap-and-trade program. We should be pushing the envelope in all of these areas. And if we aren't doing that I don't think we have much credibility around the world.

Monica Trauzzi: So were you surprised than that there was no mention of domestic policy and what like Senate EPW is doing? They've already passed through the Lieberman-Warner bill, no mention of that.

Tom Udall: I think that the one hopeful thing is that we started the year in a bipartisan way and we're going to need bipartisanship on these issues tonight. So I hope we push them hard.

Jay Inslee: We were hoping that the president would seize this last opportunity to really show some leadership when it comes to global warming, to really invest in a full-scale American effort to face and surmount this challenge. It was not to be. The president, again, failed to talk about a cap-and-trade system that would really limit carbon dioxide. He failed to really put meat on the bone to have a real R&D program. There were some flourishes of rhetoric, which are welcome, but without a cap-and-trade system, without real American leadership, we can't get this job done. Now, the president said he wants to put money into R&D for clean coal, which is fine, but as I've personally explained to the president, no one will ever, ever use this technology unless there is some cap, unless there is some legal limitation stopping polluters from putting carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. That is absolutely necessary. The president, again, totally missed his failure to do that.

Monica Trauzzi: What about what he spoke about on the international scale? He really focused more on the international efforts to get a post-2012 climate agreement signed. Is America leading the way?

Jay Inslee: No. Frankly, there was a fellow at the Bali talks who asked the president to lead, follow, or get out of the way. And we want America to lead. And the way to do that is for us to take steps ourselves for a bold, strong, cap-and-trade system that's meaningful and enforceable and practical. We shouldn't have to wait for the Chinese or the Indians. This is America. We led in democracy. We should lead in the response to this. Then we should ask them to join us in an international treaty. And I am concerned that the president, again, would use the international treaty as an excuse for inaction, rather than a prod for international response. And I'm concerned about that.

Monica Trauzzi: Looking ahead, later this week there's a major economies meeting that the president has called.

Jay Inslee: Right.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you see that as hopeful? Does that really match up with what he said this evening?

Jay Inslee: Well, we always want to be hopeful and the president has let us down on too many occasions unfortunately. And he still has not put on the table goals that he would commit to. Europe, just last week came up with very broad goals to have 20 percent reductions below 1990. He hasn't talked about anything in the same universe of that. So, we didn't get the leadership America deserved tonight. We're going to keep pitching and we're going to have a new president in January.

Monica Trauzzi: What did you think about what the president had to say tonight about climate and energy?

Cathy Rodgers: Well, I think taking steps to reduce the cost of energy in this country is a great way to help America. And I was pleased to see him talking about a comprehensive energy package and steps that we can take to reduce the cost when you go to fill up with gas or turn on your thermostat.

Monica Trauzzi: On climate change though he focused on international efforts. Do you think he missed an opportunity here? Could he have spoken about domestic efforts? The Democrats are trying to get a cap-and-trade bill through this year. Could he have focused more on domestic?

Cathy Rodgers: I think it's very important that we recognize it is global climate change that is taking place and we need to act with other countries and make sure that we're in concert with other countries in taking steps that are really going to make a difference.

Monica Trauzzi: Passed an energy bill at the end of last year, now he's talking about increasing our expanding the use of nuclear or clean coal, solar, wind. Do you think there's room for that this year, especially in an election year? Do you see more movement on energy?

Cathy Rodgers: I'm optimistic. As Americans see their gas prices increasing and the cost of energy increasing, they're crying out for Congress to take action and it needs to be comprehensive. It needs to be everything.

Monica Trauzzi: Regarding climate and energy, were you surprised at all?

Roscoe Bartlett: Well, I was glad that it was in the speech. I was disappointed that there wasn't more on it. His approach to solving our energy problem is little more than nibbling at the margins of the problem. It's just grossly inadequate to the challenge we face. Just last week Shell Oil Company said that by no later than 2015 the world will not be producing enough oil or gas to meet the needs of our economies.

Monica Trauzzi: So, should we then be drilling domestically as he suggested in the speech?

Roscoe Bartlett: No, we should not until we have a program where we will use the energies we get there to invest in alternatives. I have 10 children, 16 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. And wouldn't it be nice to leave them a little energy? There is a finite amount of oil in the world. You must husband the oil that remains and use it for the best purpose. And what we need to do with that oil that remains in ANWR and offshore is to save that to use the energy we get there to invest in alternatives. We're way behind. We have known for 28 years that we would be here today, or some date near today, because our country peaked in oil production in 1970. By 1980 we knew, absolutely, that that was correct. The same man that predicted that we would peak in 1970 predicted the world would be peaking about now. It's just incredible that the world's leaders have paid no attention to that and have acted as if oil is forever. Clearly, it is not an increasing numbers of people are recognizing that we have now probably reached our maximum oil production.

Monica Trauzzi: And on climate change specifically he focused on international efforts. Did he miss an opportunity here? Could he have spoken about domestic and really pushed along any bills that might be coming forth in Congress this year?

Roscoe Bartlett: Well, he didn't mention any specific bill, but I was encouraged that he said that the United States would join other nations in slowing down and eventually limiting CO2 production and increases.

Monica Trauzzi: If all the major economies sign-on.

Roscoe Bartlett: If all the major economies, that's why we didn't sign-on to Kyoto. Now, at that time, India and China were struggling Third World nations. Now they are huge economic powers. They're now playing with the big boys. They need to be treated like the big boys and it's very appropriate that they be a part of the solution.

Monica Trauzzi: Tonight the president focused on capping greenhouse gas emissions on the international scale, but back here in the U.S. Democrats are helpful that they'll be able to pass a cap-and-trade plan by the end of this year. A heated year ahead for climate discussions. For E&E TV, I'm Monica Trauzzi.

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