Congress is progressing with bipartisan support for some energy issues, but wide rifts remain on how to proceed with major policy initiatives, including domestic drilling and nuclear energy, said panelists speaking at the IHS CERA Week energy conference in Houston March 5.
Partisan wrangling has significantly slowed down the number of laws passed by Congress in recent years, said Robert Simon, Democratic staff director for the U.S. Senate Energy Committee. Areas that have received cross-party backing include energy efficiency, clean energy and cybersecurity for the smart grid, he said.
Simon was part of a panel discussing U.S. energy policy in an election year during opening discussions for the five-day event. CERA Week is one of the largest annual energy conferences. This year's event includes keynote speeches from energy and chemical industry leaders such as Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson and Dow Chemical's Andrew Liveris.
Energy-efficiency initiatives appear to resonate with both parties because of strong support from the industrial sector. Manufacturers want the government to be a partner on this issue because they can be more globally competitive with increasingly efficient operations, said Simon.
Maryam Brown, chief counsel of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power, pointed out that all nine energy and environmental bills in her Republican-led panel have received bipartisan sponsorship.
But Brown said while Republicans previously supported an "all-of-the-above" approach to energy policy, they've become increasingly concerned about the cost of certain energy initiatives. She referred to support for the expiration of corn ethanol subsidies as an example.
Brown criticized President Obama for adopting an energy stance that is weighted toward renewables and doesn't include enough incentive for mining and exploration. She referred to Obama's approach as "all of the above except for nothing from below."
Brown was also critical of the administration's progress on federal drilling permits.
But Frank Verrastro, director of the energy and national security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the nation was on track to expand offshore drilling until the Deepwater Horizon accident. Within a year of the disaster, the nation was drilling again in the Gulf, which Verrastro said "is kind of phenomenal."
Verrastro said Obama could have chosen his words more carefully in his most recent State of the Union address when calling for an end to oil and gas industry tax breaks.
"But we're all big boys and girls, and if we're going to move forward we have to get beyond semantics," Verrastro said