Republican Sen. Lugar says Obama blundered with climate change push

One day before President Obama’s State of the Union address, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) called on the president to shift his focus from climate change and launch a “highly visible campaign” to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil.

Lugar said Obama erred in pushing for a broad climate bill last year.

“From the beginning the Obama energy security message was subordinated to his campaign on climate change,” Lugar said during a speech Monday at a clean energy conference. 

The administration “vastly overestimated” the support for climate change legislation and “underestimated the obstacles” that would get in the way, the senator said. Efforts to pass a cap-and-trade bill in the Senate failed last year after months of negotiations. 

“The Obama administration’s focus on carbon reductions caused almost any energy security proposal to be viewed through the prism of climate change,” he said.

Obama must “revitalize energy security as a bipartisan issue,” Lugar said, by publicly laying out specific goals for reducing oil dependence that are “well publicized, measurable and understandable to the American people.”

Obama consistently called last year for building a "clean energy economy," in part by weening the country off its dependence on foreign oil.

Lugar also said he is planning to push broad energy legislation based on a bill he introduced last year. But the details of that legislation are still up in the air. Lugar has yet to determine whether one of the central components of the bill, the so-called “diverse energy standard,” will be included in the legislation he introduces. 

The diverse energy standard included in the energy bill Lugar introduced last year would require 20 percent of the country’s electricity to come from renewable energy, nuclear, and coal with carbon capture technology by 2020.

“We like the idea of a clean energy standard,” Lugar spokesman Mark Helmke told The Hill Monday. But he said energy industry stakeholders have raised questions about the “regulatory impact” of the proposal and the senator is still “thinking it through.”

Lugar told reporters Monday that he is working to gain support for his legislation. 

In remarks at the clean energy conference, Lugar suggested that it would be more difficult in the new Congress to pass legislation mandating specific energy technologies. Asked about his diverse energy standard, Lugar said when debating such mandates, “we run into some of the hazards that we ran into with the cap-and-trade debate last year.”

After his speech, Lugar added, “I don’t know whether it will be a part of our bill. I presume it might be, but I’m reserve the right until we work with our other legislators to see what we are going to include.” Lugar is working with Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on the legislation. 

And he suggested that all legislation, including energy legislation, will need to take into account a push by Republicans to reduce federal spending. 

“I’m not going to seek any federal funding for the moment,” Lugar said when asked whether his proposal will include federal funding for technology meant to reduce coal emissions. “We’re in a process right now in which every debate we are going to be having is how federal funding will be going down.”

Lugar’s comments come as House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has said Republicans on the panel will block efforts to pass a standard that mandates specific technologies. 

“Although governments have an important role to play in facilitating development of alternative energy, we oppose energy technology mandates that must be met regardless of cost,” a committee agenda obtained by The Hill last week says.

Lugar's energy bill will be based on his “Practical Energy Plan,” which, in addition to the diverse energy standard, calls for reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil by 40 percent by 2030 and increasing fuel economy standards.