Bipartisan group calls on Obama to form energy council

Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Leaders of a Bipartisan Policy Center energy project today called on President Obama to create a new council headed by his Energy secretary that would craft a broad national agenda and coordinate policy across agencies.

The proposed National Energy Strategy Council would include secretaries from numerous departments and release a plan by June 30, 2013, laying out the Obama administration’s energy goals, budget priorities and legislative agenda.

The BPC’s Strategic Energy Policy Initiative, co-chaired by former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), retired Gen. James Jones and former EPA Administrator William Reilly, released the recommendations at the National Press Club today.

“What it means is that when the president wants to have a discussion on energy, the point man is the secretary of Energy and he brings everyone he needs to bring to the meeting,” Jones said. “The seriousness of the moment really requires the secretary to be the secretary of Energy, and not just a portion of that.”

Obama also should direct the Energy Department to conduct an interagency quadrennial energy review to gauge the effectiveness of existing policies, they recommended.

The new council would include the head of U.S. EPA and secretaries of the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Interior, Transportation, Treasury and State.

The report found there is currently no federal entity in a position to “implement, coordinate and assess all of the federal government’s energy-related activities and initiatives.”

Dorgan rejected the notion that the Obama administration hasn’t taken up the issue and said the president has made his policies clear. But he said the recommendations will provide a better way for more than 20 agencies — all of which oversee energy policy in some way — to communicate and overcome regional and political issues that have hampered past efforts.

“We believe there isn’t an effective way to develop strategies with all the agencies and Congress, and there’s … very little opportunity to measure the metrics in this,” Dorgan said.

Jones agreed and said most countries know to approach DOE about nuclear issues, but nothing else.

Lott said that members of Congress will benefit from having the information at their fingertips and that he has already reached out to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the committee’s ranking member.

“When we get the final product, we’re going to take it to the administration for review,” Lott said. “That information will be available to Congress as they move forward with [energy] legislation, hopefully next year.”

The recommendations arrive amid speculation over whether Energy Secretary Steven Chu will remain in his post in Obama’s second term (Greenwire, Nov. 1).

Although the secretary has not announced his plans, few in Washington’s energy circles believe Chu will be staying for four more years. Lott said the implementation of the group’s proposals wouldn’t begin until next year, which would give the administration plenty of time to make Cabinet changes.

Dorgan, who is among the top candidates being mentioned as possible choices to take over as the next Energy secretary, wouldn’t comment on whether he would be interested in the position.

“I support Secretary Chu; I think he’s done a great job,” Dorgan said.