Abraham reflects on energy issues

President Bush last week nominated Deputy Treasury Secretary Samuel Bodman as his second secretary of the Energy Department. The man Bodman would replace, former Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), leaves as the department’s longest-serving secretary. As delegates from nearly 200 countries gathered in Buenos Aires to celebrate ratification of the Kyoto protocol, a plan for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions that the Bush administration has pulled out of, Abraham sat down with The Hill’s Jim Snyder to discuss the administration’s views on climate change and other energy-related topics.

The Hill: Do you believe greenhouse-gas emissions are creating global warming?

Abraham: Clearly we believe there is enough evidence to warrant us to do the sorts of things to address greenhouse-gas emissions that this department has launched.

We’ve launched the world’s most ambitious technology program aimed at controlling greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, notwithstanding all the debate in all the world capitals, the Kyoto accords and so on. If you look worldwide and ask who is it that is doing to most to try to come up with the technology to prevent GHG emissions from growing, it’s actually the Department of Energy and the U.S. government.

What we decided was the most appropriate way to address this problem was through the development of new technologies that would allow us to have growing economies on the one hand and reduce the intensity of carbon emissions.

The Hill:
Did Congress undercut those efforts? Particularly as they relate to FutureGen? (FutureGen is a $1 billion government- and private-sector-funded effort to create a coal-fired power plant that doesn’t pollute and produces hydrogen for use in fuel-cell cars. Congress this year denied an administration request to redirect more than $200 million in previously appropriated money to the program.)

Abraham: I don’t sense in Congress any reluctance to fund the program over the course of the next 10 years. I just think they decided that shifting the money that would not be spent this year at the level that we proposed was premature.

The Hill: Isn’t that an indication that [Congress] might not be willing to fund the project for 10 years?

Abraham: I hope not. Obviously, I hope that Congress will support this strongly. …

There is no program on the planet that is as ambitious and is as likely to address these issues as the FutureGen program. In the context of the huge, huge budget, not only of this department but as part of the total non-defense discretionary budget … over 10 years it certainly is not a budget buster.

The Hill: You indicated that there is enough evidence to indicate that greenhouse-gas emissions are contributing to the warming of the planet but there is not enough evidence to mandate a greenhouse-gas-emissions reduction?

Abraham: I think there is enough evidence to call for us to have a strategy. …

One approach is to have a significant recession in the economy so that your economic activity lessens and consequently your GHG emissions lessen. The other approach to getting these goals established is to develop the technology that allows you to simultaneously build the economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the approach we’ve embarked upon.

The Hill: Sen. [Pete] Domenici [R-N.M., chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee] has asked for proposals to try to reduce the cost of natural gas. Do you have any suggestions as to what Congress can do in that area?

Abraham: Natural gas poses a huge challenge to this country. We’ve encouraged demand for natural gas to rise even as we have separately regulated the supply that makes it hard to meet demand. Our most recent national survey conducted by National Petroleum Council said that in 20 years from now we could easily find ourselves importing 25 percent of America’s natural-gas demand from beyond North America. This is a huge change.

One of the things we need to do is to make it possible for the import of natural gas to be safely and effectively conducted. We need more LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminals. … The more ability we have to import gas, the more we will be able to keep the price from getting out of control.

The other thing we have to do is to address the issue of diversity in fuel supply. If we allow the nuclear-power sector to essentially stay undeveloped, if we don’t build new nuclear-power plants, then the share of the energy supply from nuclear is going to decline and that will put even more pressure on the natural-gas sector.

And we need to make sure the clean-coal technologies we have are successful.