ERCC's Segal, NWF's Symons discuss politics of climate, energy legislation

As Senate leadership determines the timeline for rolling out and debating a climate and energy package this year, lobbying efforts behind the legislation are ramping up. During today's OnPoint, Scott Segal, co-head of the federal government relations and strategic communications practices at Bracewell & Giuliani and director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, and Jeremy Symons, senior vice president at the National Wildlife Federation, discuss the politics of cap and trade. Segal and Symons also address the impact that health care reform may have on prospects for a climate and energy package.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Scott Segal, co-head of the federal government relations and strategic communications practices at Bracewell & Giuliani and director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council. Also joining me is Jeremy Symons, senior vice president of the National Wildlife Federation. Scott, Jeremy, thank you both for being here.

Jeremy Symons: Thanks.

Scott Segal: Glad to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: Scott, health care reform is dominating discussions on the Hill. Democrats are likely going to need to make many concessions to get that through. The big question is though, is the political will going to be there to push climate through once they have to make all these concessions on health care?

Scott Segal: That's probably one of the most frequently asked questions that clients have for us, is what is the interplay between health care and global climate change? And it's an interesting question. In one respect, if the health care debate were to resolve itself relatively quickly then it would simply free up time for Senate consideration of climate change. But I think there's something deeper going on there. If health care were to collapse in a heap there would be a tremendous amount of recrimination between moderate and conservative, Democrats and more liberal Democrats, and that would really sap the political capital that will need to be available in order to heal the rifts within the Democratic caucus to advance climate change legislation on Capitol Hill, let alone trying to get something that is acceptable enough to garner 60 votes overall and pass it out of the U.S. Senate. I think it's very doable. I think that the president, when he addresses health care and sort of is more clear about exactly what it is he needs, will probably give that issue a little bit of a lift. And once it has that I think we might be able to make some good forward progress on climate. I look for very serious consideration in the U.S. Senate on climate change in the fall. I think that we might even have some direct floor attention to it, perhaps in December, maybe in January. If it gets later than that it would then be hard to conclude a conference before the end of the first quarter of 2010. And if you don't conclude a conference before then you're really into the re-elect, the midterm election for Congress and that makes it very difficult and then we're talking about a longer-term question.

Jeremy Symons: If I could add, and it's good to get your advice for free.

Scott Segal: Yeah, sure, any time. That's what it's worth.

Jeremy Symons: I think we got a real boost out of the August recess. I think there was a lot of attention to poll numbers and the town hall meetings. I think there was a real call for clean energy action now that we were hearing from our members in a lot of the rural and rust belt states that are going to be real key here in the Senate. And you look at the poll numbers, it's really startling to see that despite what's been happening in some of the other polling areas, on clean energy the numbers have actually been ticking up if anything. Washington Post just did a poll; they found that it was two to one in support for the president and Congress's agenda on clean energy. Zogby did a poll recently, 71 percent support for the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the House. And another poll recently focusing on 16 of the target states, the swing states here in the Senate, finding, again, strong support, over 60 percent for moving forward with a clean energy bill, so we're real pleased with that element of it. The politics here of how things work with health care will be complicated, but I think after tens of millions of dollars of spending by oil industry and others to kill it, we're ready to go.

Monica Trauzzi: There were several key manufacturing groups who were very disappointed with how the allocation of allowances was handled in the House bill. Senator Boxer is expected to release her version probably later this month. What are your expectations for how stakeholders, the various stakeholders are going to be ramping up their lobbying efforts as we head into the fall and as this debate starts heating up?

Jeremy Symons: Well, it's a great question. I think you have to look at the manufacturing concerns in context. This used to be a zero-sum game debate years ago where it was all industry kind of lined up against legislation. I see now, fundamentally, I think everyone recognizes, except maybe the energy corporations and special interest themselves that have a vested interest in the status quo, I think everyone else recognizes that America has to regain control with a clean energy legislation that gets us more jobs, reduces pollution, and increases our energy security. And if you look at what manufacturers have been paying for energy bills, just like what families have been paying, they've been going up and up and up. And in oil today we're spending $600 million every single day on foreign oil. That's three times what we spent eight years ago. Same on electricity. I mean look at the price of coal, up 60 percent, and that price is now being passed on to manufacturing consumers as well as families across America wherever we rely on coal. So you have manufacturers coming to the table wanting certainty so they can make the right investments. So now we've narrowed the topic down to how do you fine tune legislation to make sure it's fair for everybody? That's something that we support. That's something that can be done in the allocation system without attacking the integrity of, environmental integrity of the bill, and that's one of the reasons I think we have real prospects of getting something done here.

Monica Trauzzi: Scott, ACCCE, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity made some news this summer when it was discovered that they were responsible for some forged letters that were sent to members of the House prior to the House vote on climate. What's the overall impact that a news piece like that has on lobbying efforts and some skepticism that members of Congress might feel towards groups like this?

Scott Segal: Yeah, well, that was too bad. I mean I'm not really all that familiar with the exact facts of what went on inside of that group or with their contractors, but this is serious business. I listened to what Jeremy's talking about here and these are serious concerns for industry, serious concerns for consumers and when people don't take it that seriously or are cavalier that really undermines the prospect. It roils the pot. It just was an unfortunate situation particularly for that group. Now, I've got to say on the sort of overall prospects or how much the American public as a whole wants to see a climate change legislation that includes cap and trade, you have to look very closely at the rhetoric they've utilized because I noticed I heard Jeremy talk a whole lot about recent polling data and fail to mention this word, what's the word again, climate change. Failed to mention that, but instead to style everything as a clean air energy bill. I welcome him to energy policy. I think that's a good place to be. There's a lot of information out there about how to make the United States more competitive and how to diversify our energy mix, how to put renewables in the mix along with more traditional sources of electricity and of fuel. So there's a lot there. When you take that same polling data, and I think you hear it particularly at the NBC News/Washington Post poll, and you begin to tease the data a little bit by asking people to actually react to cap and trade, the numbers fall away. It's why, for example, members of Congress who are very supportive of cap and trade legislation really don't want to take a vote on it too close to the midterm elections. The reason that particular political parlor game is so important here in Washington is because people fear that there are tremendous cost considerations. You know, we look at the health care bill that affects about 18 percent of gross national product and you see what the town halls look like over the course of the August recess. Yet we look at a bill that affects arguably 100 percent of the U.S. gross national product and we've yet to have that kind of thoroughgoing and searching analysis, particularly on the cost containment side of things. I think we're ready for that debate. I think it's a material debate and I look forward to it over the course of the fall.

Jeremy Symons: Let me jump in. You know, on the polling, you mentioned the Washington Post poll, 59 percent of Americans support cap and trade even if it cost $10 a month. That's actually up from what it was three months ago. We're not afraid to talk about it. The Zogby poll that I'm talking about, it specifically polled American Clean Energy and Security Act as a bill that limits green house gases that cause global warming, 71 percent support. We're not afraid of it and let me tell you why it's ridiculous to talk about clean energy and global warming as though there's some sort of competition between them. There's no competition. They're one and the same, energy security, clean energy jobs and protecting the environment for our kid's future. And they're one and the same because of this, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which is the House version, the Senate will do its own piece of legislation as you know. It will build on that. But the American Clean Energy and Security Act, according to EIA would save us $650 billion over the next 20 years on foreign oil. That's not just oil, that's foreign oil, actual reduction in imports. You take that money, what else does EIA say? We're going to invest $620 billion more than we would if we did nothing, 620 billion into clean energy, low carbon investments in the utility sector.

Scott Segal: What's the part of the bill that saves oil?

Jeremy Symons: The part of the bill, there's a number of pieces. The first is there's a big investment in battery technologies.

Scott Segal: OK.

Jeremy Symons: And one of the things we need to do is use this investment, private investment that's spurred by standards, new standards that the bill has on reducing global warming pollution. That's the key. Without those new standards, I mean trying to do legislation without dealing with global warming, trying to do clean energy without putting new standards to clean up pollution from dirty energy doesn't drive the investment down field that you need to get clean energy jobs.

Scott Segal: I think you could get wide consensus on an investment in an advanced battery program that perhaps is a little bit more difficult to get over a widespread, economywide cap and trade program.

Jeremy Symons: But it's also ...

Scott Segal: No, no, the point is this, to refer to the ACES bill as it was passed in the House of Representatives as a jobs bill is a little bit disingenuous. It is the rare jobs bill indeed that has a $4 billion unemployment assistance program attached to it because of the economic dislocations that will be caused by the bill. I'm not saying we shouldn't do climate change legislation. I'm saying we should do climate change legislation that makes sense and has a firm commitment to cost containment. And I am glad to hear, and if I'm not misstating anybody else's position I know you'll correct me, but I'm glad to hear that so many environmental organizations are at least willing to contemplate a bill that has a price collar in it, that has, in other words, not just a floor below which allowance prices should not sink in order to create certainty for downstream investment, but also has a cap above which the price of allowances shouldn't exceed so that businesses can have certainty as well, particularly highly energy consuming businesses.

Monica Trauzzi: Let me jump in here because we're almost out of time. I'll give you just a couple of seconds to answer this final question. If this does not pass by January or February as you were saying, will we look back on this as a massive failure by this Congress? Is there that much pressure on it?

Scott Segal: I don't think there's that much pressure on it. As we send our negotiating team to Kyoto for example, they will under their arm obviously a House-passed version of the bill. It will be far better for Copenhagen negotiators to have a House-passed bill and some action perhaps in committees regarding it on the Senate than it would be to take peeric Senate votes that ended up failing or end up being very inconsistent and then actually throwing them into disarray as they try and negotiate something internationally.

Monica Trauzzi: Jeremy?

Jeremy Symons: Well, this is the time. I mean there's no point in waiting. This is the time to get it done. The president wants it done. Majority Leader Reid wants it done. There are 60 votes out there for the right package if we put together some of these manufacturing concerns and other issues to make sure that it works for all the senators from all different regions. We'll get it done. We'll get it done now, we have to.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there on that note. Thank you both for coming on the show.

Scott Segal: Thank you very much.

Jeremy Symons: Thanks.

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

[End of Audio]



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