Obama official: Energy, climate need single policy

At an MIT forum, Obama's assistant on energy and climate change, Carol Browner, says the administration prefers "comprehensive legislation."

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--With hearings on an energy and climate bill scheduled to begin next week, "energy czar" Carol Browner on Monday said the Obama administration favors regulating greenhouse gases through "comprehensive legislation" rather than through the Environmental Protection Agency.

Carol Browner, assistant to the president on energy and climate change, speaking at MIT on Monday. Martin LaMonica/CNET

Browner spoke at a summit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hosted by Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey, who chairs the Energy and Environment subcommittee of the House's Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee two weeks ago released a draft of energy and climate legislation that provides incentives for efficiency and renewable-energy technologies.

Following a Supreme Court decision two years ago, the EPA is moving to determine whether it can regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. But Browner, who is assistant to President Obama on energy and climate change, said a law that combines energy policy with climate policy is a more effective approach.

"It is the strong preference of the administration that we secure legislation. There are things that can be done that won't quite work within the existing law," she said in response to a question after her speech.

"We need to be looking at all of the issues that make up our energy future, that give us the kind of clean-energy jobs and give us energy security and ultimately reduction in greenhouse gases. We think that is best achieved in legislation," she said.

Proposals in the energy and climate bill, called the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (PDF), could have a direct impact on green-technology companies.

The bill, sponsored by Markey and California Rep. Henry Waxman, proposes a national mandate for renewable energy at utilities, efficiency standards, and the creation of a cap-and-trade system through which industries can buy and trade carbon emissions permits. Some of these permits would be auctioned off, creating a fund to invest in clean-energy technologies.

In a press conference on Monday during the summit, Markey said the possibility of the EPA regulating industries over greenhouse gas emissions "becomes a real factor in negotiations."

"I think it becomes a real factor because industries across the country will have to gauge for themselves how lucky they feel if they kill legislation, in terms of how the EPA would treat them," Markey said. "There's greater flexibility in the legislative process to deal with the myriad issues that arise."

The ACES bill calls for emissions permits to be auctioned as a way to establish a price for carbon. However, some of those permits would be given away to heavy-polluting industries, such as steel and paper, in the short term to remain competitive internationally, Markey said.

The bill also proposes a system through which proceeds from the auctions will be used for investments in energy research and to provide discounts to consumers, if there is a rise in electricity prices from the regulations.

Markey said the goal is to have the House vote on the bill before its August recess and to have it signed into law by the end of year, before the next round of climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

 

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