Senator says Dems erred in promoting cap and trade ahead of renewable standard

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Congressional Democrats should have pushed renewable energy legislation instead of a cap-and-trade bill when they controlled Capitol Hill in President Obama’s first term, a Democratic senator told a Washington, D.C., ballroom packed with labor and environmental advocates today.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota lamented that the Democratic-controlled 111th Congress failed to advance a standard requiring utilities to draw a share of their output from renewable sources like wind and solar energy.

A renewables push, she said, was “the smart way to go in terms of creating incentives.”

There was substantial support for a renewable energy standard even in the 110th Congress, when Democratic majorities were slimmer, she said. Obama expressed support for the policy as a candidate, she noted, and might have thrown his weight behind legislation in 2009 and 2010.

“I think we could have easily gotten that done at the time, and it would have been one of those long-term incentives that I think would have made a major difference for the country,” Klobuchar said, adding that a renewable standard might have been structured to afford flexibility to states with different energy mixes.

“But instead we waited, remember, and we decided to go forward with cap and trade,” she said.

While Klobuchar supported the cap-and-trade bill that cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2009, she said efforts to enact it were complicated by the economic recession and ultimately ran aground.

The renewable standard, which was backed by labor groups including the United Steelworkers of America, might have proved to be an immediate shot in the arm to the manufacturing sector, she said. She held out Minnesota as an example, saying the state’s standard of 25 percent renewables by 2025 had paid economic dividends.

“You can have a strong renewable standard and you can still have a strong economy,” she said

Klobuchar said President George W. Bush also missed opportunities to move the economy away from reliance on oil, especially in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when the energy shift could have been framed as a security priority.

Even though major energy legislation is now considered a long shot, she said she sees some evidence that congressional deadlock might be easing on energy.

An appliance efficiency bill sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) might be ripe for enactment before or immediately after this year’s midterm elections, she said.

The Minnesota Democrat addressed a mostly union audience at a conference titled “Good Jobs, Green Jobs,” sponsored by the BlueGreen Alliance and labor group Repair America.

Speaking before Klobuchar, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told the crowd that although addressing climate change is paramount, it should be done in a way that protects communities that rely on fossil fuels for their economic health and that does not outsource carbon emissions.

He called on the Obama administration to engage with local communities when crafting rules and derided the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative for failing to build environmental border provisions into trade agreements. By failing to protect the interests of energy-intensive U.S. industries when negotiating agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, he said, the trade representative risks shifting an economic advantage to higher-carbon-emitting manufacturers in countries like China.

He also encouraged the administration to examine ways to reduce emissions through upgrades in infrastructure, including replacement of aging natural gas pipelines that leak heat-trapping methane.

“If we do all of those things,” he said, “we will take enough carbon out of the air that it will make a difference for our children and grandchildren.”