Once thought of as an Al Gore protege, Carol Browner is now President Obama's director of energy and climate change policy. The Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change was chief administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency from 1993 to 2001, serving longer than any other administrator.
Browner spent time on the board of the Alliance for Climate Protection, Gore's climate campaign, as well as the Center for American Progress, a public policy research and advocacy group, before stepping down to join the Obama administration. She has been acknowledged as a key negotiator to the comprehensive Waxman-Markey climate bill, as well as the auto bailout.
In this excerpted interview with ABC News, she talked today about the work that lies ahead as the Obama Administration crafts its energy policy.
Q: It has been suggested that a new energy bill will be introduced in the Senate Earth Day, April 22.
A: There is a bipartisan team, Sen. [John] Kerry [D-Mass.], [Joe] Lieberman [Connecticut independent Democrat] and [Lindsey] Graham [R-S.C.] working to craft legislation that would meet the goal of a comprehensive energy plan. I think they are working over the next several weeks to put that bill out…
Q: What does the president want included?
A: We would hope a plan would build on work that we're already doing. The president has said repeatedly -- at the State of the Union [and] last week -- what we need is a comprehensive energy plan for this country, one that breaks our dependence on foreign oil, one that creates a new generation of clean energy jobs, and one that puts a cap on the dangerous pollutants that contribute to global warming. We're encouraged by the fact that the House has already passed the bill.
China right now is guaranteeing that they will build so many wind farms, so many solar farms. That kind of guarantee leads to direct investment. We need to make the same kinds of guarantees.
A: We're hoping a comprehensive energy bill will set a renewable electricity standard, a significant commitment to nuclear [energy]. We believe that natural gas offers real opportunities. We think that it's important to invest in carbon capture and sequestration. We have a lot of coal facilities in this country, we have coal, and we need to make sure that we're making investments so that if we continue to use coal, we're doing it in a way that is not damaging to the environment.
Obama's Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change States Her Case
We also hope that there will be an investment to allow us to develop the technology for the next-generation vehicles, for example battery technology, we're making significant investments. We want to not only have the benefits of clean energy, we also want to participate and lead the world in the clean energy revolution…
Q: What about a cap on carbon or some other pricing mechanism?
A: We need a cap on carbon; we absolutely believe that, we are open to what are the mechanisms for ensuring what is the lowest cost for compliance. A trading regime certainly can be a very important part of that, and senators are looking at a variety of options. It's fairly safe to say that they will incorporate some type of trading mechanism.
Q: Opponents of the bill have argued it will actually cause energy prices to skyrocket and mean the reduction of jobs. What's your response to that.
A: I think the senators are being very careful to ensure that doesn't happen, that there are phase-in periods, so that we can bring online the new technology. There is a long history. As you know, I was at the EPA for eight years. There's a long history of EPA setting environmental standards and people suggesting that life as we know it is going to grind to a halt. In fact, what happens, once we have the certainty and predictability, American ingenuity rises to the occasion, and we find an answer more cheaply and more quickly than anyone had anticipated and it allows us to lead the world in that new technology. I meet with CEOs day in and day out and there are lots of people prepared to make investments in the new technologies which will allow us to meet the needs of America in terms of security, in terms of electricity production and in terms of a cleaner environment. But we have to give them the rules of the road.
We think that there are tremendous opportunities in terms of jobs, if we get the legislation structured properly. Right now the business community is telling us that they won't make capital investments in renewable technology because they don' know what the rules will be. They want predictability and certainty when they make those capital investments.
Nothing's Changed on Drilling
Q: In 2008, candidate Obama made a speech in Jacksonville saying offshore drilling has-long term effects on the coastlines, and wouldn't do a thing for oil prices. What has changed?
A: Well, first thing, you have to put that statement into context. It was made at a moment when gas prices were rising and Republicans were saying let's drill, we can lower gas prices. Obviously, drilling doesn't affect near-term prices. Nothing's changed. The president has always believed we need to break our dependence on foreign oil, and one of the ways to do that is to expand our domestic drilling. That's what we've announced last week, a very balanced responsible for doing that. We also announced on Thursday more fuel-efficient cars as an important component to breaking our dependence, not just more drilling here, but also better use of efficiency technology. That announcement with the car companies will achieve on average 35.5 miles per gallon by model year 2016; for cars it's as high as 39 miles per gallon. The Congress has said we needed to get to 35 by 2020, so by working in partnership with the automobile manufacturers, the state of California and others, we were able to achieve greater fuel efficiency and thereby cost savings for the American people.
Q: What can individuals do if they want to take advantage of some of the tax incentives or rebates offered in the stimulus?
A: There are rebates in the stimulus and, hopefully, Congress is going to add some additional ones though the Home Star legislation. Most of the existing tax rebates are focused on updates to insulation, updates to heating and cooling systems. We make small amounts of our electricity from oil. Most of our electricity is made from coal and nuclear, a small amount is made from renewables and, hopefully, we're going to grow that, and have been growing that since the president came to office. But the issue when it comes from electricity is making sure we are using our existing electricity more efficiently so a lot of the tax credits that were in the recovery act are focused on efficiency.
Goals for Energy Transmission
Q: One of the biggest challenges in getting clean energy online is access to transmission. Is this something you are going to deal with in the energy bill?
A: On transmission, we do have the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which does have the authority, which was granted new authority over the last several years to help site lines. I suspect there may be some additional legislation on that issue. Also as part of the recovery act, we're making investments in new transmission. The way we've thought about it is the grid's got to be bigger, better, smarter. Bigger means we need the right kinds of lines to carry the renewable energies, better means that we have the right kind of leakage that it's up to date, and then smarter means taking advantage of technologies that actually allow everything from the average homeowner to manage their electricity, to know how much they're using at any time of day to know why this light bulb is less efficient in their house.
Q: Should the EPA have the authority to regulate greenhouse gasses?
A: Under a Supreme Court decision, Massachusetts vs. EPA, EPA does have authority to regulate greenhouse gasses and, in fact once they determine that greenhouse gasses endanger public health and welfare, which they did, under that case they had to regulate greenhouse gasses from automobiles, which they also did on Thursday. In addition to setting the toughest fuel-efficiency standards ever, they also set DOT and EPA together. DOT did the efficiency, EPA did the first greenhouse gas emissions standards. But the president has long said that's an important authority, but we think that comprehensive legislation can look at all of our energy issues, and not just the climate change issue, which is obviously a very, very important issue. And in the meantime, the EPA has a legal responsibility to use their authority, and I think [EPA administrator] Lisa Jackson should be commended for using it in a responsible and thoughtful way.