Remarks to the Alliance to Save Energy’s Policy Perspectives Breakfast
*** As Prepared for Delivery ***
"Good morning, and thanks for that kind introduction. I appreciate all the hard work that you and the rest of the Alliance do to keep efficiency at the forefront of the energy debate, both on Capitol Hill and across the country.
"As you know, the Senate these past few months has focused primarily on health care legislation. That debate goes on. But debate about the future of our nation's energy policy has never been far from the surface.
"The president and his administration have set ambitious goals for overhauling the nation's energy system and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. They want cleaner energy, and they want it on a fairly massive scale.
"That's a worthy goal, but in these difficult times our first responsibility is to revive the economy and put Americans back to work.
"As we continue to seek consensus on energy policy, it's important to remember how much we've accomplished in recent years. We made great strides in efficiency and conservation in the 2005 and 2007 energy bills. And we built on that success in the comprehensive measure approved by the Energy Committee earlier this year.
"Our bipartisan bill, Senate bill 1-4-6-2, is entitled the American Clean Energy Leadership Act. It would result in substantial emissions reductions without harming the economy by focusing on conservation, efficiency, the expansion of renewable power, modernized infrastructure, and novel approaches to financing clean technologies.
"After six months of work, we reported the bill from our committee back in early June. It's since stalled, and continues to wait for consideration on the Senate floor. The lack of progress is due to an unfortunate perception that considering a bill without a carbon pricing mechanism would represent a failure to provide the leadership so many seek on climate change mitigation.
"I think it's highly unlikely that we will find a consensus this year among a majority in the Senate on climate legislation. Perhaps next year, but not before Copenhagen.
"Unfortunately, that probably means the energy bill will likely have to wait until next year as well. I think that's shortsighted, but I'm just one voice. In the meantime it's worth discussing some of the opportunities for progress that we risk missing out on as a result of wanting to do it all at once.
"Energy efficiency plays a central role in our work to improve the energy system and curb emissions,. The reasons for this are pretty straightforward:
- Efficiency is something everyone can do;
- Improved efficiency carries an economic advantage that cannot be denied;
- And efficiency is the greatest potential source of energy that exists today.
"There are two distinct approaches the federal government can take to encourage efficiency.
"First, we can incentivize consumers and business to make smart investments in energy efficient technologies that use less energy. And second, we can mandate certain efficiency standards.
"We included both of these approaches in our bipartisan bill - we've sought to incentivize efficiency efforts, and to ensure that certain standards are developed through a consensus-based process. A great example of this latter approach, and one that can make a real difference, is our work on lighting fixtures.
"Even after we reported our bill from committee, stakeholders have continued to make great strides on consensus agreements. Just last week, a group of HVAC manufacturers and efficiency advocates signed an historic, voluntary agreement to support new federal standards for "their products.
"I'd like to congratulate and commend all of the groups - including the Alliance - that helped realize that important and spirited step forward. It's my hope that stakeholders and advocates will continue to come together and forge similar agreements, without the government directing them to do so.
"After all, energy efficiency is something everyone can take part in. Indeed, it's something everyone should take part in. The barriers to progress in this area are far easier to overcome than in many others. While the initial cost of some efficiency projects can deter people from making significant investments, there is broad agreement that we can and should address this issue.
"We included a number of provisions within the energy bill to alleviate some of these upfront costs. The energy savings to be gained through lower energy bills are eye-opening, and I believe the ‘bottom up' approach we have pursued is a good way to encourage energy efficient decision-making. Another important benefit of enhanced efficiency is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. As we seek to get more for less, we will simultaneously take major strides toward a sensible solution to global climate change.
"It's encouraging to see such a constructive role for energy efficiency in our efforts to address climate change. Too often this debate proves difficult to undertake in a constructive manner. I've been trying to change that, and I applaud your efforts to do the same.
"Those of us on the Energy Committee are now in the process of holding a series of bipartisan hearings on climate policy. As with the current debate over health care, climate solutions will require considerable time and critical thinking to get right.
"When I recently guest-hosted the National Journal's forum on energy and the environment, I chose to ask whether we should consider other climate policies, outside of cap-and-trade, given the problems that have arisen with it. That question elicited a lively debate with some very interesting responses from a wide range of experts. A number of important themes emerged, including the importance of incentives. As important as a carbon pricing mechanism may be, I suspect we'll ultimately need a portfolio of policies to resolve our climate challenges.
"Those familiar with my work will know that I'm not opposed to climate change legislation. As an elected representative of the state that's been hit hardest by the effects of a changing climate, I will always work in good faith to address this challenge. I have long been an advocate for the development of renewable, nuclear, and alternative energy. I even co-sponsored cap and trade legislation offered last Congress by Senators Bingaman and Specter.
"At the same time, I simply can't commit to any climate bill that's been presented in this Congress. Despite some press reports that state otherwise, I'm also a long ways from deciding whether or not to support the recent effort by Senator Kerry and Senator Graham, should they develop legislation that follows the outline of the recent op-ed.
"We know climate change is a problem that needs to be addressed, and we should allow as much candor and deliberation as necessary. In the meantime, we can still take steps to reduce our nation's greenhouse gas emissions. The bill reported out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June would help accomplish that goal, without causing economic harm. As of today, however, it is still waiting to be considered on the Senate floor.
"I would now like to address some of the questions I've heard regarding climate legislation in general, and the politics of getting to 60 votes for a bill. The first thing to keep in mind is that good policy equals good politics. We know that finding consensus will be difficult, but simply communicating our views - staying engaged through forums like this one - will help us build momentum going forward.
"At this point - today being October 21 - it is highly unlikely that climate change legislation can be finalized in 2009. I don't think either measure introduced so far has enough support to clear Congress. And, there simply isn't enough time to put together another bill from scratch - it will take months, not weeks, to draft text, hold hearings, model its projected impacts, and allow members to offer amendments to it.
"I think it's highly unfortunate that in the absence of climate legislation, complementary measures such as those contained in our energy bill will also go by the wayside. Their passage would be viewed as an explicit abandonment of climate, and I think that perception is harmful.
"We will continue to work on climate legislation, but it is a complex issue that will take time to sort out. In the interim, we could be (and should be) paving the way for more aggressive limitations on emissions by lowering the cost of capital for clean energy technologies, providing access to transmission for remote, renewable projects, and increasing efficiency across-the-board. The Energy Committee's bill can do all these things and it should be viewed as a step in the right direction - a step towards, not away from, our climate goals.
"Another question I hear quite frequently is how the upcoming negotiations in Copenhagen will impact climate legislation in the Senate. Let me be clear: if the administration succeeds in negotiating a binding international treaty, it will be much easier for the Senate to pass legislation requiring steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
"I'm troubled by recent efforts to manage expectations going into these talks, and even more troubled by accusations that many of my Senate colleagues would not support ratification of a binding international treaty. To the contrary, I think many who are concerned about the impact that unilateral action could have on American competitiveness - a group that includes Republicans and many moderate Democrats - want nothing more than to vote in favor of such a treaty.
"The Administration has a very difficult task in front of it, but the responsibility is theirs alone. I'd remind you that while the Senate votes on the ratification of treaties, the task of negotiating their contents is very explicitly in the hands of the Executive branch.
"Thanks again for the invitation to speak with you this morning. It's a privilege to serve as an Honorary Vice Chair of the Alliance, and to work directly with you to improve our nation's energy policy. I'll now take any questions you may have."
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