John Podesta has “hope,” but certainly not confidence, that Congress can pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill by this spring, a target date set by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
National Journal interviewed the CEO of the Center for American Progress on climate last week. Podesta said it’s crucial to cut GHG emissions by the amount the President agreed to in the Copenhagen Accord: 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. Edited excerpts of the interview follow:
NJ: Do you have confidence Congress can pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill this spring?
Podesta: I have hope [laughs]. “Confidence” would be way overstated. But I don’t think it’s idle hope. I think there are bipartisan negotiations going on. I commend Senator [Lindsey] Graham for sticking his neck out on this. There are a lot of different ideas on the table about how one collects 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. Even more than health care, this may be a place where there can be some bipartisan agreement.
NJ: When Obama announced the first conditional nuclear loan on Tuesday, he talked about the importance of passing a comprehensive climate bill, but he fell short of explicitly endorsing a cap or price on greenhouse gas emissions. Even if it’s not an economy-wide cap-and-trade system, is some type of price on carbon essential?
Podesta: Capping emissions is critical. Again, there’s a variety of ideas out on the table, including the central one that passed the House. But the cap-and-dividend proposal that’s been put forward by Senator [Maria] Cantwell and Senator [Susan] Collins has some legs and interests. A power plant stationary source cap and a fee on the oil sector is a different formulation. I think that’s what these negotiations are all about going on today. But at some point you have to cap emissions in order to hit those very important targets that the president has said the country will commit to. You’ve got to cap emissions and begin to bring them down, and that’s going to require putting a price on carbon.
NJ: Is that something a substantial number of Republicans can support? Or at least enough Republicans to pass a bill?
Podesta: Again, I go back to Senator Graham. He’s very eloquent on this point.
NJ: He seems to be one of the very few Republican senators — if not the only one — explicitly in support of comprehensive climate and energy legislation.
Podesta: I don’t think so, in terms of capping carbon. Senator Collins is on Senator Cantwell’s bill. If you look to Senator [Richard] Lugar, Senator [George] Voinovich, they’ve considered a power plant bill. There’s room to begin to cap carbon pollution and begin to reduce the carbon pollution that’s being emitted, particularly from power plants and large stationary sources.
NJ: What’s your take on Tuesday’s news that ConocoPhillips, BP and Caterpillar are leaving the U.S. Climate Action Partnership?
Podesta: I noticed that, but I didn’t study it in any depth as to what they had said when they were doing it. Ultimately, if you look at where those companies are making their investments, they’re making a lot of money off the current system, but I think if you look forward they also note that the world’s going to move to a clean energy system.
NJ: Do these defections hurt the prospect of passing a comprehensive climate and energy bill? The only oil company left in the coalition is Shell.
Podesta: I’ve never thought of the oil companies as necessarily the solution to our energy problems. It seems to me that they’re invested in the system that keeps us hocked to imported oil that creates an enormous economic burden on the country from the money that we’re sending to… often hostile regimes. It’s a major security problem for our country.