Congressmust come together to support an energy transition while addressing the needsof coal communities and others that may be left behind by market forces, apanel of experts said July 19.
Speakingat the Climate Strategies Forum in Arlington, Va., a panel featuring two formergovernors, the president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and agas utility executive lamented the inaction of Congress and the issues that aregoing unaddressed due to a partisan divide over climate and energy issues.
Caughtin the crosshairs is the coal industry, which former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter,a Democrat, said has been an important and influential part of America'shistory. But changes are needed as the nation shifts to less carbon-emittingresources. "Don't demonize [coal] but understand it's a transition now,and it's going to be disruptive," Ritter said.
Partof the problem is incumbent industries turning to financing political campaignsto protect their interests and pushing back on a clean energy transition, hesaid. Climate change became a "wedge issue that was a place for them tosort of push back both on the clean energy side and on the climate side andreally divide Congress ... in a way that made it difficult, even impossibleover the last several years to do something really meaningful on both," Ritteradded.
FormerNew Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, said communities that relied on coal miningfor generations have languished. "You have members whoseentire districts were dependent on coal and we have done nothing" to helpthem with a transition, said Whitman, who also served as administrator of theU.S. EPA under President George W. Bush. "Finding them a way to be able tosupport their families is where the key to this lies. And there's enormouspossibility," she said.
BobPerciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, toldS&P Global Market Intelligence that Congress is pointing blame rather thanbuckling down and developing concrete solutions to help communitiesdisadvantaged by the energy transition. "There's a majority of members ofCongress who want to solve the problem of transformation and make it moreequitable and economical, but we still have a certain abundance of needing toblame somebody," Perciasepe said. "In this case, unfortunately,there's almost a caricature about how environmental regulations are causingsome of these problems … when in fact [there is an] abundance of energy and thecost of energy in the United States is going down. So these paradoxes are verydifficult for people to come to grips with."
Alsofalling through the cracks is the nuclear industry, with a number of operatorsannouncing retirementof their plants. Whitman is co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy, or CASEnergy,Coalition, which promotes nuclear energy. She said the industry needs a publicrelations fix. "What we're trying to do … is answer people's questionsabout [nuclear power] so they get to understand how basically safe nuclear hasbeen in this country, how well regulated it is in this country. Because todaythe only place people have really gotten their information is from 'TheSimpsons,'" Whitman said.
Speakingat the forum, Perciasepe, who was the No. 2official at the U.S. EPA before joining the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions in 2014, pointed tothe efforts of NewYork regulators to create a clean energy standard over a renewable energy standard,which will promote all nonemitting resources rather than singling out renewablegeneration. Perciasepe said the current energy system is not putting a value onzero-emitting resources, and the federal government needs to provide policyincentives to do so.
LouHutchinson, vice president and chief revenue officer of and subsidiaryWashington Gas LightCo., said in an interview at the forum that corporate CEOs have arole to play in pressuring Congress to take action on the energy transition.