This spring, we are happy to welcome to the Energy Round Table two former state energy officials, U.S. Congressmen Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), both of whom joined the House Committee on Energy & Commerce this year. We are excited that a former member of the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and a former member of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), respectively, have joined the congressional committee responsible for energy policy.
Representative Tonko, as the former president and CEO of the New York State Research and Development Authority, was an active member of NASEO from 2007 to 2008. Before that, he spent 25 years in the New York State Assembly, where he chaired the Energy Committee for 15 years. He is currently serving his third term in Congress.
Representative Luján, also in his third term, is the former chairman of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission and was a member of NARUC from 2004 to 2007. He chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Green Economy and Renewable Energy Task Force and is a member of the Natural Gas Caucus.
For our second Energy Round Table, we brought together a group of state energy officials and their national representatives to ask Tonko and Luján about their new responsibilities and how their old jobs will influence their policy decisions moving forward.
Larry Dawson, Director of the Illinois Office of Energy Assistance, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development
Philip B. Jones, President, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC); Commissioner, Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission
Brad Ramsay, General Counsel, NARUC
Robert Scott, Director of Energy Services, National Association for State Community Services Programs
Francis J. Murray Jr., President and CEO, New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA)
David Terry, Executive Director, National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO)
Mark Wolfe, Executive Director, NEADA and Energy Programs Consorti
Wolfe: Representatives Tonko and Luján, since you’ve both served as state energy officials, could you talk about how that’s informed your perspective as members of Congress, especially as it relates to national energy issues that could impact state energy programs?
Tonko: It’s great to share the conversation with my friend and colleague, Congressman Ben Ray Luján. He brings a lot of great knowledge to our committee.
Having served in the New York State Assembly during the time of deregulation, I saw a number of the things that were raised—there were a number of discussions about the concerns we should have with quality, with reliability, with the adequately trained resources and workforce, so as to be certain that we could take that workforce and allow for quality services to continue. And that’s a sacrifice in that attempt. I think there were many who wanted it cautiously. And there are a number of programs that I got to implement at NYSERDA after having developed the policies through the Assembly and its Energy Committee. Areas that looked at, again, the reliability of the service, and certainly the predictability, and having a healthy mix in our energy supply and making certain that we could use that policy area as a force of economic development and economic recovery.
Luján: I can say it’s also an honor to be able to be on the call with everyone today, with all of our leaders from the various organizations, and with my colleague Paul Tonko, who is a great friend and brings [an] extraordinary wealth of information with his perspective from New York, as well as nationally, to share on the Energy & Commerce Committee.
When I was on the Public Regulation Commission of New Mexico, we were able to strengthen and enact a tough renewable portfolio standard which was used as a model for the national RPS [Renewable Portfolio Standard] legislation and we’re hoping to be able to still be a part of. So, an extraordinary background associated with where the debate is headed in the Congress. I was really honored to work with my colleagues in Western states to enact their framework to address climate change, where we weren’t seeing any action at the time by the federal government. And so as utility commissions across the country, we agreed to work together and establish rule making that would lead to greater support for renewable generation, greater support for net metering programs, greater support for energy efficiency and weatherization programs. I would suggest that the work that I was able to learn from while I served on the state utility commission is important. It’s the perfect backdrop for all of the work that we will be doing, I hope, in the Congress and on the Energy & Commerce Committee, and why I hope that there’s more interaction between NARUC and the Congress. I think it’s important that deregulators are a part of this conversation and that we’re able to work together, so I very much look forward to the conversation today, and thanks again for getting us on the call.
Murray: As Paul knows well, we at NYSERDA have one foot in the area of research and development and an even larger foot on the side of policy development and deployment of some of these technologies. Now, as I understand, both of you served on the Science and Technology Committee in the House [House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology] prior to your recent appointments to the Energy & Commerce Committee. So my question is: How will that experience and background help you shape some of the initiatives and development of policy that you’re going to be considering in your new roles in the Energy & Commerce Committee?
Tonko: I think there was an awful lot of innovation that we brought to Science & Technology in my first term in Congress, which also means it was Congressman Lujan’s first term. We came into the class of ’08 together. And I think that what we had advanced under Representative Bart Gordon’s leadership was a very forward-thinking agenda—one that really invested in research, that showed the effects of research to not only bring us to higher levels of opportunity and open doors to untold solutions but also [as] a way to develop jobs in the science and technology area that translate into good-paying jobs that advance this notion of embracing the intellectual capacity of our country and making good things happen. From renewables to capturing waste heat, perhaps, or having more efficient natural gas–driven turbines and the like. Just looking to see energy efficiency as a fuel of choice and really putting together a forward-thinking bit of policy that would attach itself to an ideas economy, an innovation economy, in a way that really brought us into a science and technology realm. That is so important—to maintain our competitiveness in the global economy. I will say I’ve seen that slacking off somewhat since that first term.
Luján: I certainly agree with everything Paul offered. We talk about the importance of R&D and some of the conversations we had on the Science & Technology Committee under the leadership of Bart Gordon. Legislation that I know both Paul and I really supported and had some strong amendments for was the [America] COMPETES legislation, talking about America’s competitiveness and efforts to make sure we support R&D. In no place more important that we would talk about – energy utilization and generation in the United States. I was honored to work with Gabby Giffords on a piece of legislation she authored for solar energy to add a provision to look at charging the federal government with trying to identify superconductive materials so we can have efficiency gains on our trans-mission lines and our corridors as well. And even looking to our national labs, where we’re seeing dramatic gains based on Department of Defense [DOD] and Department of Energy [DOE] applications to transfer that technology and make it to the commercial marketplace so we can see those gains there. And even algal biofuel growth, where I know Paul and I had been outspoken trying to develop those technologies so we can wean ourselves off of foreign sources of oil. And even the integration of technology so that energy efficiency becomes a part of all the smart devices that we use, whether it’s interaction in our homes or on our phones or tablets, to make sure we’re making the most gains. So it’s critically important and sad that we’ve seen this stall in the Congress. There shouldn’t be a partisan fight in this area. As a matter of fact, this should be something that we launch forward in the future to be able to take greater advantage of it.
Terry: A question for either of you, Congressman Tonko or Luján. Congressman Tonko, when you spoke to the state energy offices and the state research institutions at NASEO last month, I think you mentioned looking forward optimistically for the potential for more bipartisan agreement around energy issues and energy efficiency and clean energy policies. I guess it’s a bit of a follow-up to Frank Murray’s question, but are there any particular sectors that you think are most promising or fruitful for state/federal/private collaboration of the kind that Congressman Luján just mentioned? And then also the outlook for continued support for the U.S. State Energy Program, [for] which Congressman Tonko you have been incredibly helpful and supportive and helped the states accomplish a lot in terms of energy-related economic development and energy efficiency.
Tonko: I’m hoping that there’s this coming together on energy policy for the sake of competitiveness. Our business community needs that. Certainly our manufacturing community needs that. And it serves residential consumers well. One would hope that after this last election that there would be a move now toward the job growth that we can do. Still the number one issue in Washington is jobs. And if we can utilize research and energy efficiency as those underpinnings of support that translated to jobs, we’re all the more powerful in our comeback scenario. And it builds confidence in the economy. My concern is that after that there’s somewhat of a tug-of-war for doing some of the comprehensive energy plans that this nation desperately needs. But I think if we can start with a sampling of success—and I think that can be achieved in the energy efficiency area—then it should inspire further progress along the way. But it seems to be one of the more readily reached-to concepts that may have bipartisan/bicameral support in a way that allows us to reduce that mountain of electrons we require for the workplace and homeplace.
Luján: I guess I’ll focus a little bit more on where I think there should be partnerships. In New Mexico, for example, we had a consortium of Japanese companies that came in to work with Department of Energy Los Alamos National Laboratories [and] with the state of New Mexico to develop a smart house. With it they built a small solar array, connected with some battery technology, and built in applications to show what energy efficiency gains can do for the average household. And I think that’s an example of what we could do all across America, and encouraging those partnerships with state utility commissions as well. And where state utility commissions still we could work together collectively through NARUC to strengthen energy efficiency programs in respective states. That’s something we should look towards, especially as Paul describes, where we’re seeing some of the stalling with the Congress. And then lastly, we can see some collaborations with some of the private entities. We have some of the largest corporations in America that have made decisions within their organizations to implement energy efficiency because it saves them dollars on utility consumption. And I would suggest anything we can do to take those practices to help small businesses and residential users and even the federal government—there should be a larger partnership there to truly experience and benefit from those gains.
Jones: In the 2005 Energy Policy Act, as you know, backstop siting authority was provided to the federal government on the basis of trying to find congestion in interstate transmission lines, and these are called national interest transmission corridors. DOE has done that on a cycle. They include wide swathes of areas of the country, the mid-Atlantic, the Desert Southwest. Some of the state commissions and state siting authorities have some real issues with the way DOE has conducted this analysis. But, in general, do you agree with that approach in
the 2005 Act, or do you think there’s another approach where the federal government and states can cooperate in siting very long transmission lines?
Luján: I think that the reason for the policy was because there was a concern with the stagnation of movement or transmission, especially across critical corridors across America. So the legislation caught the attention of many, even those that have some concerns associated with it. I just don’t think that this is a developing policy, [but] something that we can definitely strengthen, working closer with some of our state allies, as well as [making] sure we’re looking at the importance of this. Personally having wished to see us integrate renewable generation into our generation across the country and including some of the battery technologies that we’re seeing gains with now, I think that we can look forward to the twenty-first century and how we can make sure we’re incorporating both of those aspects as well. But, again, state utility commissioners are going to be critically important as we talk about the siting concerns that will exist with them in addition to FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission], strengthening these conversations, developing policies that are consistent across the country. Where it makes sense is where I hope this policy goes, but it’s something that definitely should still be part of the conversations with all energy policy moving forward.
Tonko: I agree with the concern expressed by the Congressman. I think that transmission is a very important part of the response here to the energy needs of the country. I think working a federal role as facilitator and perhaps as a policymaker that provides for standards, but working in tandem with the states. We all know fighting a power plant is tough; try a power line! Some of the challenges to the nation with the coastline states having huge needs and populations and having some of the renewable resource far from that source requires a good strategy. And that’s why we need to be accompanied by a comprehensive energy plan that includes transmission. I think that there’s room here for federal–state partnerships that enable us to work in that partnership where we hear the needs of those local states but at the same time create a federal facilitation exercise that moves us forward. Because in the area of the transmission activities and in pipeline activity, there needs to be the coordination and the collaboratives that will get us there in soundest fashion.
Dawson: How, in your opinions—particularly from the LIHEAP side—can we better make a case for the importance of energy assistance for low-income households? We certainly all know and are very familiar with the stories of senior citizens, [the] disabled, [and] families who have been helped by the program, but it doesn’t seem as though that message is really propagating as much as we would like it to and we’re curious about ways to better make our case. The second question is: We’re faced with a situation in weatherization with dramatic funding cuts. The LIHEAP program is supporting weatherization more than ever, and we’re curious whether from your perspective you see any challenge to future LIHEAP support as the amount of current LIHEAP funding being transferred to the weatherization program continues to increase.
Tonko: Let me jump in and just say that with the tone of sequestration that has gripped Washington and with our leadership as a House, heavily with that border of insensitivity, I get concerned for programs like LIHEAP and for the weatherization efforts. At the same time, I just want people to be encouraged by the fact that Representative [Ed] Markey [D-MA] has led an effort—a letter campaign—to appropriators for fiscal year ’14 that would ask for the $5.1 billion for the program near 3 and a half billion in 2012. I think added to your argument about being sensitive to the needs of low-income households, which at times is a message that’s not easily delivered, there seems to be a silence at times for those who are in the deepest struggles or those who are frail and economically challenged. I would suggest that beyond the moral compass of this issue we need to remind Ben Ray’s colleagues and mine about the dollars that are poured into the local economy from these programs. This is something that comes back into the strengthening of the regional economy, simply because these aren’t dollars you sit on—they’re dollars that are going to keep people warm, they’re dollars that speak to the dignity factor and to their quality of life and their basic core essentials.
With weatherization, I’m leading a fight for weatherization funding in our house. The continuing resolution kept the same funding level and I believe that weatherization, for that reason, is in trouble. I’m leading a letter to the Department of Energy to suggest that they use discretion to prioritize the weatherization program. We’ve had thirty-four senators sign on to a similar letter in their house, and we have traditionally asked for the $210 million for the program, but it’s been funded post the Recovery Act, the stimulus as you know, at $175 [million], so that’s down $54.5 million. I will continue to lead a fight via the letter to the appropriators for both the weatherization and the State Energy Program fund for fiscal year ’14. I just think that it’s sound investment, it’s speaking again to the moral compass, it’s making certain that people aren’t living in energy-poor environments, and again it bolsters the local economy. You’ve got two friends from the House on the phone. We are battling every day for social and economic justice within the context of energy policy.
Luján: Well said, Paul. And I would only add that this is a life, health, and safety issue as well as an economic issue when we talk both about LIHEAP and weatherization programs. With LIHEAP, I think that we need to encourage the utilities to get more involved as we talk about the general safety and welfare of their constituencies as well as our constituencies across America through these tough economic times. But we also talk about the arrears problems that sometimes exist with utilities, and this definitely helps to address some of the concerns associated with those issues all around. And so I can’t imagine why our Republicans continue to attack this program as they have, with even trying just to get food to those that are hungry and sometimes homeless around America. And with the weatherization program—look, these are just winners all around. It puts people to work. It adds value to people’s homes. It reduces utility costs for the consumer. It reduces base load needs for utilities. I just can’t imagine why this isn’t a program that has been highlighted by Democrats and Republicans to move forward, so I appreciate all the work that Paul Tonko is doing here. You can count on my support, Paul, in making sure that we get this done. So this is something that I certainly hope across America that we’ll see from the organizations that are on the phone and with the Congress. Paul, maybe we can find a way to work together and get the governors on board to advocate for this program.
Tonko: Absolutely. And you know, Congressman Luján has been a tremendous supporter and helped with the effort. We’re also part of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, which takes policies that green us up—investments in the budget that green up our thinking—and we’re going to use that vehicle, too, to beat the drum here to get things done.
Scott: Despite the weatherization program’s measurable and considerable energy savings, its cost-effectiveness, [and] its support of skilled and domestic jobs and businesses, the current funding levels from 2012 and 2013 are not going to sustain a national program. And with that huge decrease in funding—down to $68 million unless the Secretary of Energy increases it—it will be very difficult to sustain the program in all states in 2013, making fiscal year 2014 probably a make-or-break year for the program. I know you’ve both been great supporters of the program, so I’m going to ask: How can we overcome the House reluctance to support such a successful community-based program with its wide and measurable benefits that has strong roots in every local jurisdiction in the country?
Tonko: We’re all looking to grow the economy, put confidence back into that equation. I think these programs are a good investment that find their way into dollars that recirculate in the local economy. Base load reduction, of which Congressman Luján spoke, is a real thing. The utilities see the value of it certainly. And it’s an enhancement of community. Unfortunately, with many, it’s just a cutting frenzy without a thoughtful approach that analytically reinforces some of these programs that speak to the human need and grow the economy. I think we have to just keep bringing that message to the forefront, talking about the value-addedness associated with all of this, and we should see energy efficiency and conservation as a fuel of choice.
Luján: The only thing I would add to what Paul said—I certainly agree with everything—is how can we grow our coalitions and the strength? How can we get homebuilders involved, those that are involved in the construction industries in addition to the utilities [and] state partners to help us make this case? The [National] League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, all of these organizations [that] members of Congress definitely listen to, would maybe be able to reach out to Republicans in the Congress to help make this appeal. As Paul said, the benefits here in rural America, all of America, are endless. And we need to see what we can do to strengthen this program. Again, as we try to see the revitalization, what’s even happening in the housing market, this adds value to people’s homes, it strengthens them. It saves them money. It saves the utilities money. This is just a win-win all around. Hopefully we can be a part of growing that organization and coalition of advocates for the Weatherization Assistance Program.
Murray: We do not manage a weatherization program here at NYSERDA, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of what our colleagues are talking about. Most of us went into public service with the idea, I think, of trying to help those less fortunate than ourselves. To know, then, that we have folks like Congressman Tonko and Congressman Luján who are able to see what Paul referred to as the moral focus and the social justice that attends some of these energy policies is refreshing and reassuring to all of us in the public sector.
As both of you know, the White House recently called on the Congress to establish a new energy trust, setting aside $2 billion over the next ten years to invest in breakthrough research that will make the technologies of the future both cheaper and better. So my question is: How would you anticipate this funding being coordinated with individual state energy research and development programs?
Tonko: Well, ideally, I would like to see there being a direct partnership. I know that when we dealt with the stimulus monies, there were folks who wanted to see programmatic assistance more directed from Washington so that we got the dollars right where they needed to be. I would love to see our support in great partnerships with the state groups that are working with the future transformation, including electric vehicles, or if we’re going to develop biofuels, or if we need the research programs or any of the programming at, for instance, NYSERDA dealing with the focus on fuel cells, or looking at the potential of our domestic natural gas supply. There are good things that can be done, but we have to make certain that it’s directed laser-sharp-wise to the source as close as we can so as to make certain that the intent from the federal perspective and from this energy security trust fund perspective is indeed implemented. It’s got a doable notion to it because there are pieces in there that would be more appealing to the GOP, and there are renewables for instance for the Democrats and others that want the more transitional progressive things. I think that there’s great promise there politically, and there’s a lot to be said for a $2 billion investment over the next decade in these growing technologies, or the potential at least of these technologies.
Luján: I, like Paul, want to make sure that there are great partnerships with the state entities as well. I also want to see a key role with DOE National Laboratories and even with DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] as we talk about what Department of Defense is doing to incorporate renewable energy generation, battery technologies, and alternatives. We have an immense opportunity to bring all of that work that is happening in the DOE sphere and DOD sphere into a commercial application. And so, again, the transfer with that technology, the partnership with local entities that are already doing this in a directed way, and having a clear vision on what we want to do with this energy fund and this goal to be able to wean ourselves off of other sources of generation and be able to generate power in the country in a smarter, clean way.
Tonko: I would also add that I would hope that we could take some elements of progress at the state level where people have had that vision, they’ve had that jumpstart, and reward that, not penalize it. So there’s a lot to be done with the fine tuning here, but in concept I think it’s very visionary and very promising.
Terry: What do you see as the prospects looking forward, how we at the state energy offices and NASEO can do a better job of communicating and positioning the [State Energy] Program from an appropriations perspective, particularly in the House moving forward this year and next year? I wonder if you have any particular recommenda-tions.
Tonko: [A] recommendation first on the appropriations point: reinforcing the letter campaign to the appropriators and certainly speaking to both houses in that regard. Now’s the time to be very vocal in this austerity stage that we’ve placed ourselves in. As I’ve said to many groups that join us in Washington or at the home district, it’s one thing to get a bunch of support for programs and pat us on the back and say some sort of reinforcing words, but we also have to pledge to balance the approach so that we’ll commit to finding revenues that can accompany this effort. There’s all this talk about offsets—well, the boldness by which we support you needs to match the revenue enhancement that we’re willing to do in order to make it happen. For instance, our caucus in the House stands for closing loopholes—addressing the subsidies that are handed out mindlessly to the profit-rich oil industry; looking at fairness and pro-gressivity in the tax code, which ought to be revisited; providing for stability and predictability in the production tax credit effort that we do. All these things need to be brought into focus so that it’s a revenue balancing along with the investment request that we’re doing so that it’s a holistic approach and not just doing pie in the sky “Yeah, we’re with you” and then, here, silently spoken, “But there’s no money.” Well then, what are the revenues you are willing to sweep or add that will provide for these very sound programs that either speak to social and economic justice or take us into a new level of commitment to innovation and transitioning and transformation in the energy area? And I think the intellectual capacity of this nation is untapped when we’re allowed to sit by and accept status quo.
Luján: I think Paul covered that beautifully. The only thing that I would add is, as we make sure that we extend our fight for the production tax credit, investment tax credit, that we, those of us [who] are advocates for the programs, that we make very concise economic arguments so our Republican colleagues aren’t able to push away from the notion of what these gains truly mean, not only to the economic security of the country but as we talk about the president’s goals, making this a number one and top issue. So working together to help us present those arguments, I think, would be an added value to helping get some more people on board.
Ramsay: Senator [Ron] Wyden [D-OR] seems to be getting a lot of press over the efforts on the Senate side to come up with a broader energy bill that specifically addresses nuclear waste and maybe the creation of a new way of dealing with the fees that come in from the states. This has been a perennial, difficult problem between the House and the Senate. I’m wondering what each of you think the prospects are for any type of serious legislation addressing the waste problem to get through both houses any time in the near term, this Congress or next?
Luján: I’m not certain what the appetite is in the House or the Senate here, especially coming after some of the fights with Yucca, but this needs to be addressed. I think that Blue Ribbon Commission [on America’s Nuclear Future] could have been a bit more expansive in some of their deliberations associated with spent fuel and waste in trying to help us solve this problem. We’re giving more recommendations associated with dealing with the accumulating spent fuel and waste at nuclear generation sites. I really believe that it’s shortsighted for the United States to simply put something in the hole and hope the problem goes away. I was really hoping that the Blue Ribbon Commission would have included something about reprocessing or other recycling sites, which I know is a concern to many. But with the national labs’ capabilities in addition to what other nations have done, we need to accelerate some of the ability in that arena. And I would even suggest that as we talk about trying to find efficiencies for the existing generation that takes place at those facilities to be able to use more of the fuel and [produce] less of a spent fuel in waste that results from it. I’m just not sure, Paul. I don’t know if you have anything to add there with where the Congress will move in this arena other than the push from the Senate. Now with the concerns as we talk about even Hanford’s waste, that is not spent fuel necessarily but all of these other conversations that are now on the table. The Congress does need to address this, but sadly with the Ryan budget of sequestration, they take an axe to the technologies and to the resources that we would be using to address any of these issues.
Tonko: I couldn’t agree more. To be assigned to those technology-savvy committees, where you need to be cutting edge, where you have to keep pace with research—in practical research, in applied research—it’s just regrettable that there’s not a respect for that order of investment. Certainly the siting process with nuclear waste is definitely an important long-term issue. It’s a prerequisite that is out there, challenging all of us so that we can address places like Kesselring in my neck of the woods. We need that long-term storage plan that speaks to safety and security. So I would just encourage that we work with the administration. And while we’re on nuclear power, there’s an arena that requires a whole lot of water for cooling, which has become an issue that we don’t talk much about. We need to approach it thoughtfully, mindfully, and [give] it a sense of urgency if we’re indeed wanting to embrace the all-of-the-above mentality generation of things.
Murray: Congressman Luján, you actually developed New Mexico’s renewable portfolio standard, and Congressman Tonko, when you were here at NYSERDA, you oversaw the implementation of New York’s renewable portfolio program. Do either of you have a sense of the future of the production tax credit, which has been so critical to the development of many forms of renewable energy, and more generally, the support for renewable energy production in the Congress overall?
Tonko: Well, I would hope that with the talk of the issue of tax reform being so readily verbalized that we would make major gains in this area. But there have been groups like ALEC [American Legislative Exchange Council], which is right-leaning as a GOP think tank which supports a lot of state legislators, and they’re making the repeal of the RPS a priority in 2013. That same group prompted some thirteen states to abandon regional commitments to reducing global warming pollution. We basically have had to defend the gains we’ve made at the state level while put-ting pressure on the national level. Both of us have been very outspoken voices in the production tax credit extension. But we need long term. We need predictability and security to be part of this, and just the thought of phase-out is not going to help in our transitioning to a better outreach to renewables. Planning here is important. I’m hopeful that if we can keep pushing more of these tax reform discussions, we would see the production tax credits on that list, and
we will be able to have, I would hope, a sound academic exchange—science-based, visionary in nature—that would speak to the wisdom of providing that predictability which is so essential, to spur the market and to create the legacy pieces of investment that can really transition us in the areas of solar and wind and so many other concepts.
Luján: Again, this is where the states have led. Because of action across the United States with the courageous approach of many utility commissions around America, the Congress authored and had hearings on renewable electricity standards that [were] considered but sadly we haven’t been able to enact into law. But still, as Paul suggested, with what ALEC will be doing to attack renewable portfolio standards across America, in addition to our Republican colleagues in the Congress being so outspoken to try to end anything that has to do with renewable energy generation—or energy efficiency or weatherization, for that matter—we need the states to stand up and be strong and courageous in not only protecting their renewable portfolio standards but encouraging other states to enact them and seeing how we can make sure that we push this across the country, keep this a very popular policy—which it is. And that’ll enable us in the Congress to have a stronger debate in protecting and providing certainty with the production tax credits, in addition to enacting what I hope would be a stronger renewable electricity standard.
Tonko: I think that’s where the federal government can play a key role—providing for a sound standard for renewable power.
Jones: Congressmen, I’ve made cyber security and critical asset protection a theme of my presidency of NARUC this year, spending a lot of time on it and obviously it’s a hot topic. The president has issued his executive order in late February. NIST [National Institute of Standards and Technology] and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] and the various federal agencies are busy, DOE included, trying to implement it. But in the meantime, legislation may pass as well, and I think you on Science and Technology have passed a bill on cyber R&D. You have the House Intelligence Committee and Energy & Commerce—there’s a whole gamut of committees in [the] House and Senate who have jurisdiction over this issue. So given all that, what are the prospects of something passing this year in your view?
Luján: I really believe that the prospects are high. But, Chairman, I am so glad that you made this a priority of NARUC’s. We talk about hundreds of millions of dollars, I’m sure, that are expended on cyber security protections for our utilities and for our infrastructure across America, and that’s all money that’s taken away that could go into the programs we’re talking about—weatherization, energy efficiency, applications of research and development. So it’s going to be critical that utilities and infrastructure relating to water power and telecomm—those issues that you oversee every day through NARUC—are going to be included in this. But this is a serious issue costing America trillions of dollars in losses of intellectual property, in addition to threats to national security. So I’m hopeful at least that in the Senate we’re going to see progress there, in addition to what I hope to see coming out of the Energy & Commerce and Intelligence Committees on the House side this year.
Tonko: I would have to cite that I sense a degree of urgency, at least in the realm of the committee work that I do. I think cyber security is seen as a major issue because of its impact on consumers and businesses and government and academia and the grid. And because those issues range from business concerns to homeland security to personal information protection, there’s this large cross section that’s been working in a collaborative to get things done. This is another area where perhaps we could strike progress that would be very helpful and very necessary. I sense a high degree of urgency that’s associated with the public policy development for cyber security.
Luján: I would also add that this may be an area where maybe we can have NARUC with one of the appropriate committees interact with our national laboratories—mainly the NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration] facilities in New Mexico and California—to be able to gain from some of the benefits that I know that they’re engaged in every day, in addition to some of their own power supplies, and see how they may be able to help with some of the technical assistance that already exists through the utilities with some of your concerns as well.
Jones: On that issue, we are working closely with the Idaho National Laboratory and with PNNL [Pacific Northwest National Laboratory] in my state of Washington, but I think we need to extend the conversation as you suggest to Oak Ridge and Sandia, perhaps Los Alamos, and some other national laboratories, because they can be a very good resource for us in this effort.
Murray: Congressmen, you both are aware that electric prices are at a fairly low level due largely to the boom in natural gas production and use. Do you think that this change in circumstances presents a possibility that a cap-and-trade or a carbon tax might be revisited by the Congress?
Tonko: As you know, Frank, we’ve tried the cap-and-trade in the House, and that didn’t get Senate action. I think the complexity of cap-and-trade would probably yield to a tax as a concept, which is more straightforward and easy to understand. I for one think both options should be reviewed and considered. There is a cost, as we know, to carbon diox-ide emissions. We’re paying it, but it falls disproportionately on the poor and underserved while the polluters are making record profits. So I think there is a great need for us to address carbon, and I would hope that if the concerns in the other house for cap-and-trade continue, then let’s look at some of the concepts that can get us there and accomplish the same goal.
Luján: I would simply add again that the Congress, when Paul and I were first elected, passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which included provisions like cap-and-trade that sadly many of our Republican colleagues voted against. But those of us [who] are proponents of address[ing] emissions need to do a better job of reminding our Republican colleagues that this was their idea. This was a conservative idea that was launched years ago. Ronald Reagan used the premises of a cap-and-trade program to address leaded fuels. President Bush used this to address acid rain. Senator McCain included this in several pieces of legislation, one of which President Barack Obama was also co-sponsor of. And so I think that we have to get back to getting the politics out of these conversations and doing what’s right to make sure that we’re addressing concerns not only here in the country but around the world. And again, I think it says a lot that Democrats embraced what was a Republican idea in cap-and-trade and sadly the Republicans found a quick way to turn their backs on this idea which they themselves invented.
Terry: One question I have relates in part to cyber security, but more broadly. NASEO and the energy offices have been deeply engaged in energy and emergency planning and response and mitigation over a period of nearly thirty years and work very closely with NARUC and the utility commissions on these issues. We have a particular focus on liquid fuels. And in light of the recent spate of storms, and certainly [the] ongoing disasters that happen, unfortunately, we seem to be visiting this area more and more. And I think one area of collaboration with the Department of Energy that has been better than most has been in the area of emergency response with regard to energy supply disruptions. But in the area of adaptation or mitigation, these responses may be less active. Is there any interest on your parts or that you detect in perhaps advancing some of these ideas and working with the states? It seems like a particularly ripe partnership, again covering a variety of fuel sectors but also the built environment—and how that’s impacted by storms—and our energy infrastructure.
Tonko: Well, having witnessed Irene and Lee up in the Twentieth Congressional District that I represent, which did devastation galore, and having been part of the advocacy efforts for the Northeast, including New York State and metro New York and Long Island, with Superstorm Sandy, with the added threats of climate change and global warming and the changed weather patterns and the impact of Mother Nature on so many communities, there needs to be, I think, a coming together, a revisitation of some of these guidelines so that there’s an opportunity to rebuild, but rebuild in [a] more effective manner [and] the response updated, allowing for, again, flexibility to be part of the process, where you can not only rebuild or restore but reinvent, if you will, in some ways the infrastructure response.
Posted on: May 21st, 2013