Chamber's top energy official: Time for 'unemotional' talk about energy costs

Harbert, who was a high-level official at the Department of Energy under former President George W. Bush, stressed that while it’s important to devote some resources to developing new energy technologies like wind and solar, the country cannot abandon efforts to develop its offshore oil and natural-gas resources, even after the massive Gulf oil spill.

“Having people really understand our energy reality, rather than energy as we would like it to be, is incredibly important, particularly at this juncture in terms of our economy,” she said. “It may be lovely to think about a world without fossil fuels, but that simply is not America’s energy reality.”

Harbert also took aim at the Obama administration for moving forward with a number of new regulations that she said result in investment uncertainty in the business community.

“I think what we are seeing is a focus by the administration on regulation rather than on a policy pathway that will encourage and ensure that new resources are brought online, and that applies to conventional to unconventional to renewable energy,” she said.

The Interior Department’s efforts to impose new safety regulations on the offshore oil-and-gas industry in light of last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill have created uncertainty in the industry, she said.

“They continue to not be able to get a clear timeline from the Department of Interior for their permitting. And they are sitting on a tremendous amount of reserves and a tremendous amount of capital that they are unable to deploy without the Department of Interior giving them a clear timeline,” she said.

Offshore oil-and-gas drilling will “absolutely” be a part of the country’s energy future, Harbert said. “It would be a huge mistake if the administration or the Congress or a combination of the two were to regulate or overtax the ability of industry to participate in offshore exploration,” Harbert continued, echoing recent comments by the American Petroleum Institute’s Jack Gerard.

The national oil spill commission, in an initial chapter of its final report (the rest of which will be released Tuesday), blamed “systemic” issues within the oil industry for the Gulf oil spill. The report is already stirring talk among anti-drilling lawmakers in the Senate of passing oil-spill response legislation.

Harbert also criticized the Environmental Protection Agency for moving forward with a slew of new regulations, chief among them new greenhouse gas standards for power plants and refineries. She called on the agency to conduct a broad cost-benefit analysis of the cumulative effects of all of its regulations on various industries.

“Before we continue to pile on regulation, we at the very minimum should know what is currently being proposed would impose in terms of cost to the consumer,” she said. “Nobody has polled all of those different rules together and been able to do a thorough analysis of them as they continue to promulgate out of EPA.”

As the new Congress begins shifting its focus toward energy issues, Harbert predicted that the ascendant Republican majority in the House will conduct a “review of all the different regulations in order to find a pathway forward to make some investments, given this huge regulatory tsunami coming at them.”

She also said she expects to see a “new tone” in the House. Republicans, she said, will not go around the committee process to pass legislation, a reference to failed efforts by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and, for a time, Lindsey Graham (D-S.C.) to pass climate legislation outside of the relevant committee.

“I think you will see instead more discussion between the parties, the majority and the minority in both the Senate and the House, so that we have legislation that comes out of the committees that is better understood, better analyzed, and ultimately leads to legislation that is passed,” she said.

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