WASHINGTON—The influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce unveiled a plan on Tuesday that’s at odds with much of President Barack Obama’s clean energy agenda.
The chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy presented what it calls “realistic, bipartisan solutions to our nation’s top energy challenges.”
The chamber, the biggest lobbying group in the U.S. according to the Center for Responsive Politics, clearly hopes to protect businesses from what it sees as onerous parts of the administration’s path for a clean energy standard.
“It’s ridiculously premature,” said Christopher Guith, vice president for policy at the institute, referring to Obama’s plan. “We have very little idea where many of these new members of Congress are going. We know that the House majority has said that it’s not very likely.”
The chamber says that the administration’s approach to energy is “unrealistic”—arguing that it “picks winners and losers.”
The powerful business lobby formulated its five-part plan after a tour of the nation that including many conversations with business and community leaders. The proposal cites broad plans which span increased funding for research and development, the continuation of off- and on-shore drilling on American soil and the creation of clean energy banks, a provision included in different iterations in both the House and Senate climate and energy bills last year.
For the clean energy sector to grow, the federal government needs to remove stringent regulations said Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the institute. She cited a ‘streamlining’ of the Environmental Protection Agency’s power on environmental reviews to help speed energy projects to market. The group insisted that it doesn’t want enforcement weakened, however.
“The EPA should not be regulating…we would like Congress to take the lead,” Harbert said.
Harbert also said that raising taxes on the oil and gas industry shows a ‘profound detachment’ from a current economic and social environment that relies on those very industries.
‘We are going to need all sources of energy’
The chamber, telegraphing the fight ahead in Congress, said that to move forward the U.S. will need to rely on all sources of energy, whether they are clean or from “the dirty bucket.”
“Gas prices today are north of $3 dollars. We think [our plan is] practical, we think it’s relevant for today’s energy reality and will put us on a better path for the energy future. Energy problems aren’t going away because there’s a lack of disagreement in Washington. We are going to need all sources of energy,” Harbert said.
“The energy debate [in Washington is] increasingly polarized and out of step with where we want to go,” Harbert said. “It’s time to start reflecting our energy and economic reality.”
Both Harbert and Guith said that the chamber’s proposal is more practical and focused on generating results for American business, energy corporations and the job market in the 2011 than the more far-reaching goals of the Obama administration.
The president’s has proposed that meeting 80 percent of the nation’s power needs with low-carbon sources — renewables, nuclear energy, natural gas and coal plants that trap carbon — must be complete by 2035.
“The debate was more focused on 2035 and not where we wanted to be in 2010, 2011, and 2012,” Harbert said “I’m worried about next week.” Guith said the 80 percent as defined by the administration refers to electricity dependency.
As of today 40 percent of electricity dependency qualifies as ‘clean,’ Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said in a videoconference last Wednesday. Chu said that the goal of 80 percent clean dependency is possible by 2035, though it will take bipartisan cooperation.
Guith said that to attain that goal, renewable energy production has to increase by just shy of 800 percent by 2035.
“To look at non-hydro renewables increasing by almost eight fold…it would be impossible. It would be impossible to build the wind farms; it would be hard to permit the requisite power plants. I don’t think it is realistic even if we were to go down that route. First and foremost there needs to be a discussion of what it will take us to get there,” Guith said.
The future growth in American energy said Harbert, relies on money spent on research and development. For growth to occur the federal government needs to move away from the idea that oil and gas are things of the past said Harbert.
“The point of this plan is to recognize our economic reality and not to spend any more of our tax payers dollars…it would create revenue and create jobs…the only spending we called for is a commitment to research and development,” Harbert said.
From American research and development comes the adoption of technologies and products by the U.S. private sector. The alleviation of regulations for the private sector, said Harbert, is the way of the future.
Chu echoed those sentiments. “The people who win in that [clean energy innovation] will certainly have a head up on what you can sell internationally in the market,” said Chu, and will “win the future.”
“No single source alone will be the answer—rather we need a comprehensive approach Harbert said in a video narration. “We need to break through the partisanship and unleash a new innovation.”
Guith said “to implement this conceptually, it will raise revenue for the government.” However said Guith, money for the administration is not the same as money for the public.
The release of the chamber’s proposal follows the introduction of two climate bills to the Senate on Jan. 31 by Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.