Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Blogger conference call with Senator Burr

I listened into a blogger conference call with Senator Burr about the GOP energy policies.

Senator Burr said that the energy crisis is affecting families and disproportionately hurting the poor. Burr said that if this had happened earlier in his career in Washington, the politicians in Washington would have dropped everything and worked together to pass legislation, but today this hasn't happened. The Majority Leader is not allowing amendments or debate. The President has shown leadership by lifting the executive moratorium on offshore drilling, but now Congress needs to do its part to adopt a comprehensive approach. The GOP wants to balance both production and conservation. The United States has had warning shots in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and today. What is different today is the demand from the developing world, particularly China and India. The international trends mean that demand is just going to grow at exponential rates. So Congress can't just be complacent and simply hope that everything will return to normal. If we're unable to create a policy to address this issue, families will be robbing from the children's futures.

Republicans are urging that Congress have a full and open debate on energy allowing amendments, but Harry Reid hasn't allowed this by just putting up bills that can be voted up or down without amendment. And Nancy Pelosi is totally blocking any vote at all.

When schools start in a few weeks, we'll see increased pressure on school districts to pay for busing. This is going to affect employment c

The GOP wants to do something on both production and conservation and lay out a blueprint to move towards energy independence. We need to invest in the future in technologies that will help us be less dependent on foreign oil. T. Boone Pickens is %100 right that we need to realign our resources. We need to to do everything and adopt a comprehensive plan.

When asked what could be done with the recess upon us to pressure the leadership or are they just going to delay through the elections, Burr says that he's becoming more and more convinced that this is an election issue. Only the outrage of the American people will change the leadership's behavior. So he urged people to write Reid and Pelosi to do more than provide votes for cover for the politicians but actually address the problem.

It's ironic that we'd focus so heavily on tax extenders and a housing bill, but ignore the financial crisis that is affecting American families.

He was asked about the automobile industry. He says that the American auto industry gets it and will be sprinting to retool manufacturing cars that will be more efficient in their energy usage. He thought that the choice of consumers will drive the industry and that we don't need any mandate on flex-fuel cars.

Burr wants to get to technological platforms that are non-petroleum based. He noted that we don't have the capacity today to switch to produce or deliver ethanol. We need to move to nuclear power more swiftly, better use our natural gas reserves, how can we use solar and wind power.

He was asked what the short-term impact would be of such a comprehensive strategy and answered that the futures price would respond to such efforts by Congress even if production would be years in the future. The futures market has real impact on today's prices. When asked how the futures market contributes to prices, he said that we need a balanced approach to regulation but not risk sending speculators out of American to Europe where they could speculate in the same way without any regulation. We also need to be concerned about pension funds that are investing in the market for the long term.

When asked about how we can get around the work of activists and local governments to block individual power projects, he thought that any federal legislation should address such efforts so that environmentalist groups can bog such efforts down in the courts. For example, he said we needed to do something about the boutique fuels that individual states require that are forcing us to produce over a hundred different fuel formulas. Just through the ability to mass-refine those grades, we could facilitate each state getting their fuel more expeditiously and economically.

In the political sphere, he was asked why he thought the Democrats are going against what people overwhelmingly want. He answered that the Democrats don't want to be in opposition to the positions that Senator Obama has on energy. The American people understand that we can't just shift to wind and solar and abandon petroleum. We need a comprehensive approach.

I asked him about lifting the mandates on ethanol. He said he has been trying to do that and that such relief should be part of a comprehensive bill. He thinks that we're seeing how the diversion of corn to ethanol is affecting food prices and that this acceleration of prices. He wants to have a provision to lift those mandates if food prices soar too much.

He opposes mandates and prefers working with incentives such as tax credits. He thinks it's appropriate for government to use the tax code to influence choice, but not limit choice. He feels the same way about conservation provisions.

This was my first interaction with Senator Burr who has had a very low profile in my state. But he has clearly made energy into one of his signature issues. I was impressed with his wide-ranging knowledge and ease of speaking about various aspects of energy from individual car brands to the technological ramifications of various energy approaches.

He's absolutely right that we need a comprehensive approach and that it is a darn shame to see the Democratic leadership ducking this issue.

Here is the audio of the call.