President Barack Obama's energy policy may surface later this year but a comprehensive climate change bill is unlikely to emerge in the short term, according to key legislators and association executives.
Obama has said that he plans to double the production of alternative energy in the next three years, modernize more than 75 percent of federal buildings, improve the nation's electricity grid and make 2 million homes more energy efficient, most likely through incentives.
``I think you are going to see a number of well-funded initiatives and money to support technology because this administration wants to spend money to get us somewhere, not just spend money to spend money,'' said U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, during a Jan. 13 discussion on energy and climate change in Washington.
Gordon said Obama has shown that he supports science by making cabinet appointments such as physicist Steven Chu, whom Obama nominated to be secretary of energy. Chu is a Nobel Prize winner who is committed to principles such as energy efficiency and conservation, development of alternative and renewable energy, and energy security and diversity.
``I think you are going to see a real commitment to research and development that brings private industry in from the start and relies on private industry to put that innovation into new products and jobs,'' Gordon said. ``What we don't want to do is pay a person to dig a hole and then pay another person to fill the hole. We want to create jobs today that pave the way for more jobs in the future.''
Tom Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that short-term approach can help the economy. ``We need a rational energy policy to keep the cost of energy low to drive this economy,'' Donohue said at a Jan. 7 press briefing. ``An investment in energy is a great boost,'' particularly if the investments are in technologies, he said.
``You have to have a president who cares about [energy] and you will see that President Obama will care about energy, in general,'' Gordon said.
Because of the importance that Obama attaches to the energy issue, many feel there is an opportunity for the federal government to develop the kind of policy needed to give the U.S. a more stable energy future.
``If the Obama administration is methodical and puts together a blueprint, we have a very good chance of accomplishing a major energy policy change,'' said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., during the Jan. 13 meeting. ``But if we approach energy policy in bits and pieces, we will fail to achieve our objectives.''
Developing an energy policy is of critical importance to the chemical and plastics industries, said Cal Dooley, president and chief executive officer of the American Chemistry Council, who introduced the panel.
``Manufacturers have a vested interest in developing a comprehensive energy policy and a balanced climate change policy that encourages energy efficiency, conservation and the development of a diversity of energy sources,'' he said.
But implementation of climate change policy is not likely to occur any time soon and there is no guarantee of a cap-and-trade policy going into effect, even though it is favored by the Obama administration.
``The economic situation is going to slow things down on a climate change bill,'' Gordon said. ``I think we will put a lot of things on the table over the next year or two. The important thing is to get it right.''
Donohue agreed. ``There is no one arguing whether we have to do something to reduce carbon emissions in this country and around the world,'' he said. ``But the issue for me is putting it into the context of everything else we are trying to do. If you stack all the things up and try to do them all at once, this tower is going to topple.''
Donohue, Burr and Gordon also hold the view that the details of any plan are important and the U.S. needs to involve other countries in climate change initiatives.
``You can buy into a lot of conceptual ideas such as cap-and-trade,'' Burr said. ``But the devil is in the details,'' he said, noting that there has been ``no emissions reduction in Europe'' despite its cap-and-trade policy.
In addition, Burr said that if the U.S. doesn't work with China and India on the issue of greenhouse gas and carbon emissions, ``we are chasing an issue we don't need to chase.''
For Gordon, scrutiny is important. ``You have to make sure that you are monitoring whatever you do to make sure that what you are doing works,'' he said.
Both Burr and Gordon said the U.S. needs to work with other countries on developing batteries, to reduce dependence on oil.
``We don't have an international effort under way and we need to,'' Burr said. ``There are some things that are just in the best interests of everyone, and that is one of them.''
Gordon cautioned that many of the energy and climate change initiatives are going to take time.
``We are going to need presidential leadership to make the public think that this is good for their kids and grandkids,'' he said.