CAP's Romm discusses possibilities for energy, enviro positions in Obama administration

As President-elect Obama begins the transition to the White House, what are his plans for addressing climate during his first 100 days in office? During today's OnPoint, Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former Clinton energy official, discusses the prospects for climate legislation in 2009 and the importance of early action from the new administration. Romm talks about some potential appointees for positions within the Obama administration and explains how the shift in power may affect K Street lobbyists.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With us today is Joseph Romm, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former Department of Energy official in the Clinton administration. Joe, nice to have you back on the show.

Joe Romm: My pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: A big night last night for Democrats, not as big as some had hoped. How significant are these wins for movement on climate during the next session of Congress?

Joe Romm: Well, I think they're huge. I mean I think, obviously, the biggest impediment to U.S. action on climate, domestically and internationally, has been the president. So, Obama campaigned on strong action on clean energy and strong action on climate and you have a lot of senators who also campaigned on that. Both of the Udall cousins in the West did. So I expect that we will see, right out of the starting gate in the first 100 days, a very strong clean energy push and accompanied by action to get regulations in place on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what specifically should President-elect Obama be doing in those first 100 days during the transition period to sort of position his administration and the Congress in a place where action can happen on climate?

Joe Romm: Well, I think he needs to do three things. I think he, first of all, has to put in a clean energy team, a clean energy and climate team, and I'd like to see raising this to a White House issue so that we have a National Security Council and a National Economic Council and I think there needs to be a National Energy and Climate Council so that action really comes straight from the president. We're going to need a stimulus package that includes clean energy, pushing renewables, pushing energy efficiency. He has talked about spending $15 billion a year on clean energy. He's talked about creating 5 million jobs. That's going to require strong government action. Not all of it is spending money. Some of it can be to renewable portfolio standards and smarter regulations for energy efficiency. And then he's got to push domestically and abroad. He's already made clear, or his energy and climate team, that he will obey the Supreme Court and use the EPA regulations under the Clean Air Act to control CO2 emissions, carbon dioxide emissions. But you want to have a cap-and-trade bill and that, however, takes a long time. I mean you can't do that in the first 100 days. I expect he will do that in the first year.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned a clean energy team. Do you have a sort of dream team in mind of who should be part of that team?

Joe Romm: Well, you know, there's a very strong bench. Some people float Bill Richardson's name. I work for him. You know, I also worked for Federico Pena, who I thought was a first-rate secretary of energy. We hear about Arnold Schwarzenegger, I think Obama will want to reach across to Republicans. You hear, on the environment front, Carol Browner's name, Katie McGinty's name. These are first-rate people. I also think we need a special envoy for international negotiations, somebody like an Al Gore, who is going to re-engage in the United Nations process. But, equally important, just spend all of his or her time reaching out to China and India and the European Union to develop the consensus for really strong action.

Monica Trauzzi: Are you expecting to see a lot of familiar faces, like from the Clinton administration? Or do you see Obama sort of wanting to start with a clean slate and maybe pull some new, fresher faces in?

Joe Romm: Well, I think you're going to see both. I mean I know names that are working on his team, like Dan Camon out at UC Berkeley, a really great guy, and Jason Grumet, who worked on the National Commission on Energy Policy. So there's a lot of first-rate people who haven't a long history of experiencing government, but if you want to get something done in government, you have to appoint some people who have run federal agencies. It's just too complicated. I mean I was at the Department of Energy for five years and it probably took me two years to figure out what the heck is going on and how to do anything. So, I expect that there will be a mix.

Monica Trauzzi: So, in terms of climate policy, taking a look at Lieberman-Warner and the Dingell-Boucher draft, where would you expect Obama to fall, somewhere in between the two of them? Where do you think his policy is going to be?

Joe Romm: Well, if you go to, my blog, I have links to his energy plan and his climate plan which he ran on. His climate plan is probably stronger than Boxer-Lieberman-Warner. Dingell-Boucher, I think we've got to be, you know, significantly stronger then. I think that there will be big fights over what the targets are, how you do the allocations and who gets the permits and where does the money go? And also this big issue of carbon offsets, which I mean there's a lot of ways you can put stuff in climate legislation that really undermines its integrity. And I think that will be as big an issue as any. But if you read what Obama campaigned on, on the energy front and the climate front, it is very strong and very comprehensive. And I think the only way to get credible legislation at the national level is if Obama leads on this and puts some of his credibility behind it.

Monica Trauzzi: In the past, a Democratic president and a majority of Congress have not necessarily yielded political gains. So, what is it that Democrats really need to be cautious of moving forward in order to not sort of get in that trap?

Joe Romm: Well, I was in the Clinton administration and we only were able to keep a Democratic Congress for a couple of years. I think, clearly, you want to have some bipartisanship where you can. But if the Republicans are going to vote unanimously against renewable portfolio standards, against multiyear extension of the production tax credit for wind, against intelligent climate legislation, then Obama is going to have to go without them. But I do think you want to try to reach across the aisle wherever you can. But most importantly, he has to deliver on his promises that he will create 5 million green jobs, that he will make an aggressive push to get us off of oil, and that he will re-engage seriously on the climate issue. And if he does those things, then I think the voters will reward him. Oil prices are low now, but I'd be happy to bet with anyone that they will not be low when he's running for re-election. So, if he hasn't done anything, voters will remember. And the climate situation gets worse every year and, again, if he's re-engaged and put out serious action, I think, you know, voters will remember that.

Monica Trauzzi: Let's talk about McCain. He's expected to head back to the Senate to finish up the last two years of his term. Do you expect him to work closely with Obama on the environment? Is there an opportunity there for him?

Joe Romm: Well, I actually think this is a very unique opportunity. I think that Obama needs some bipartisanship on the climate issue. And now that John Warner is gone, they're going to need somebody else in the Senate. And I think McCain, to be honest with you, his reputation has suffered greatly as a result of his very harsh campaign. I think he is going to need to feel that he has a legacy to leave that isn't the 2008 election campaign. So my guess is he's going to want a signature piece of legislation like climate. So I think he's going to want to engage on the climate issue and I think Obama is going to want to engage him. So, I wouldn't be surprised if the climate bill that ultimately passes by the end of 2009 is going to have McCain's name on it.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you think a climate bill will pass by the end of 2009?

Joe Romm: I think that the framework will be clear. I think there will probably be a vote if he's serious. I mean I think he has said climate is one of the top two or three issues. Clearly, he's going to have to go out and reverse what Bush did. Bush spent eight years stifling and muzzling government scientists from talking about climate. This administration has to go out and explain to the American people why this is as important an issue as the Wall Street meltdown and health care. But, yes, I actually expect that there will be legislation by the end of this year - by the end of next year.

Monica Trauzzi: And you're not too worried about the fact that the economy is where it is and selling a cap-and-trade plan to the American people might be a problem because it might actually cost some money?

Joe Romm: Well, I'm not personally that worried for a couple of reasons. First off, you're going to start in the first 100 days with a major green recovery effort I think, a major push on clean energy that's going to create jobs and jumpstart the transition to an energy-efficient and renewable energy economy. So that will be very clear and I think that will be something that he and the Democrats have to deliver on. The second thing is, is that if you look at Boxer, Lieberman-Warner or Dingell-Boucher, they don't even start putting in place the cap. They allow a period of adjustment until 2012 or 2013. So, there's no possibility that the carbon legislation is going to undermine - is going to be starting into force when we're in a recession. The recession will, hopefully, be long gone by then.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, final question here. Over the next few months we're probably going to be seeing some interesting changes happening on K Street and in the industry in response to the Democratic majority. How do you think that's going to change the tone of the discussion and the debate over climate change?

Joe Romm: Well, I think as the debate moves from denying the science and claiming that action will hurt the economy, what you're going to have is one of the most eloquent and persuasive and intelligent presidents we've had in a long time explain to the American people why action on clean energy and climate is critical for creating jobs and creating the industry's that are going to be the dominant industries of the next few decades. And either the United States is going to lead on those industries or we're going to end up importing those technologies. So, I actually think that this is a transcendent time to really get the message out to the American people that, not only must we act on energy and climate because of our oil dependency and because of the real threat of catastrophic climate change, but the opportunity of creating this next generation of industries and the 5 million new jobs and lowering people's energy bills, that is going to be a very powerful message you'll hear.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we're going to end it right there. Thanks for coming on the show.

Joe Romm: My pleasure.

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

[End of Audio]



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