A climate change consensus

In the wake of the Senate’s failure to pass an energy bill this summer, Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) spoke to The Hill’s comment editor, Emmanuel Touhey, about the need to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and about how to avoid a repeat of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The Hill: What does the Senate need to do to actually pass a bill this year?
Sen. Bingaman: I think we need to get a consensus that has some bipartisanship to it. As to what the elements of a bill would be that could get 60 votes when it’s brought to the Senate floor, I hope we would have a bill that has a strong component that responds to the disaster in the Gulf, that improves safety requirements on drillers, increases penalties, deals with the liability issues, so that it’s clear under the law that anyone that causes damage is responsible for that damage. It would also contain the provisions that we included in the bill we reported out of the committee over a year ago — dealing with efficiency, trying to move us more toward a renewable electricity standard, more toward use of renewable energy, it would include a package of tax provisions that relate to energy. So, those are the main components that I think we could probably get a consensus to pass.

The Hill: You also serve on the Senate Finance committee. What would you like to see in the tax package?
Sen. Bingaman: There are quite a few provisions in the tax law today that are scheduled to expire; related to incentives for renewable energy projects, incentives for energy-efficiency investments — all of that we should try to extend, and we’ll see what we can get agreement to do in addition to that.

The Hill: Who should be making the rules about emissions, the EPA or Congress, or should there be a delay?
Sen. Bingaman: Well, ideally, Congress should be enacting legislation that at least gives direction to the EPA, that tells them what direction to go in and which areas to stay out of. And I think the administration has taken the position that they would prefer to have Congress set the rules for control and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, instead of having the EPA do that by regulation under the Clean Air Act. And I think that’s the correct approach to it — if we can get the votes to go ahead and do that.

The Hill: Do you think rules governing power plants should go forward next year?
Sen. Bingaman: Well, I think that unless Congress acts, I do think those rules should go forward, because I think it’s important that we begin to deal with the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. In my view, this is not just an academic exercise — there are real consequences that we are going to see, not just ourselves, but throughout the world if we don’t begin to show some leadership on control of greenhouse gases. And I think the United States has had difficulty coming to that conclusion. We in the Senate have, for sure.

The Hill: What do you think is behind the failure to reach a consensus?
Sen. Bingaman: I think that, unfortunately, the issue of dealing with greenhouse-gas emissions has become much more of a partisan issue here in this country than it is, for example, in Europe. Whether the party is conservative or liberal in Europe, they seem to be signed onto the idea that there needs to be in place a system for controlling and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Here, a large number in the Republican Party have taken the opposite view and basically have not endorsed any real restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions as yet.

So, we’ve got more discussion to engage in and educating to do. And I think the business community needs to weigh in more heavily. Some leaders in the business community have taken a very strong leadership position on this, but there are many that have — the Chamber of Commerce, for example, I think has actively resisted virtually all of the proposals that have been put forward. I think that in concept, they say something should be done, but when it comes to specific proposals, I’m not aware of any support they’ve provided.

The Hill: Are we taking the right steps to meet our energy needs and deal with climate change?
Sen. Bingaman: No, I don’t think we are taking the steps that we need to be taking in order to deal with the problem in a reasonable period of time. In the last several years, we have made some modest incremental progress, but much more needs to be done, and it needs to be done more quickly.

The Hill: What energy legislation would you like to see enacted in the 112th Congress?
Sen. Bingaman: I would like us to be enacting some strong energy legislation that will reduce dependence on foreign oil, that will help move us toward more of a clean energy economy, that will begin in a serious way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

I think one clear example in the tax area is we ought to be providing additional funding for the manufacturing tax incentive for clean energy, advanced energy products. This is something that we put into law as part of the Recovery Act.
The president has called on Congress to provide additional authority for him to make funds available to encourage companies to build those plants here. So far, we have not acted.