Obama brings administration officials, senators to White House

US President Barack Obama hosted 14 US senators and top administration policymakers at the White House on Mar. 9 for more than an hour to discuss prospects for comprehensive energy legislation.

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Mar. 10 -- US President Barack Obama hosted 14 US senators and top administration policymakers at the White House on Mar. 9 for more than an hour to discuss prospects for comprehensive energy legislation.

Also in attendance were Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Presidential Assistant for Energy and Climate Change Carol M. Browner, and Presidential Assistant for Economic Policy Lawrence H. Summers.

A White House aide said following the meeting that the eight Democrats and six Republicans from the Senate “brought varying approaches to the policymaking process but are all committed to creating a different energy future.”

They included Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Minority Member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.), Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Ranking Minority Member Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.).

“The president expressed his strong support for a bipartisan effort to establish clean energy incentives that will create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and he made clear that the best way to drive a transition to a clean energy economy is to give business the predictability and certainty it needs to make investments,” the White House aide continued.

‘Common goal’
“The senators shared the common goal of moving America towards energy independence and creating clean energy jobs that can’t be exported, and they agreed to continue the dialogue about a path forward for comprehensive energy legislation,” he said.

Boxer characterized the meeting as extremely productive, with a “warm, positive, and collegial tone.” She said that it gave her hope that lawmakers can start working on a clean energy policy to reduce US dependence on foreign oil and create millions of domestic jobs.

“Although these senators have come from different regions and different political parties, it is clear that there is broad agreement that energy efficiency and clean energy technologies are crucial to our leadership in the world and to job creation here at home,” she said. “I look forward to continuing to work with the White House and my colleagues as we continue to seek specific agreements on specific issues.”

Those specific agreements apparently won’t include Senate approval of global climate-change legislation which includes establishing a domestic carbon cap-and-trade system which the US House and Boxer’s committee approved. Senators appear more likely to back a bill that which takes a more comprehensive approach to energy and environmental issues, and which probably will come from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Kerry has been working separately with Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsay O. Graham (R-SC), who also were at the White House meeting, on a compromise which reportedly would include more aggressive oil and gas leasing on the US Outer Continental Shelf in addition to climate change and clean energy provisions. They apparently have not made much progress in developing more specific proposals.

Pricing carbon
Obama has said that he would still like to see a price set on carbon emissions. Sens. Maria A. Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan M. Collins (R-Me.), who attended the meeting, said that a bill they recently introduced would set up a mechanism to sell carbon shares to fuel producers and return most of the revenue to individuals.

The consumer rebates are similar to an idea Obama proposed in his 2008 presidential campaign, according to Collins. “Our bill would also spur job growth in clean energy technology, provide a market signal to develop American clean energy technologies, and prohibit excessive market abuses. It is a simpler approach that promotes American jobs and protects consumers,” she said.

Lugar emerged from the meeting with a statement that any practical energy and climate plan should address national security and economic threats as well. “We should develop a consensus with fiscal prudence in mind,” he said. “Currently, rhetoric and legislation are focused primarily at climate change while most Americans are more interested in oil reductions and economic impacts.

“We should concentrate this year on those policies that will save energy and money. Such a bill can bring large and measurable carbon reductions by reducing energy usage and foreign oil dependency,” the Indiana Republican maintained.

Other senators attending the meeting emphasized common areas of agreement. “There was a great deal of consensus in the room that energy and climate legislation can be a vital tool for creating jobs and improving our economy,” said Cantwell. “We’ve been hit hard as an economy and this is something that could help us create millions of new jobs today and in the future.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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