Business lobby pushes drilling and green energy

By Steve Hargreaves, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The business lobby, derided by environmentalists for opposing last year's climate change bill, put out an energy plan Tuesday that drew praise from fossil energy industries and threw a few bones to the renewable sector.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce stuck to its familiar call for more domestic oil and gas drilling and against newly-enforced greenhouse gas regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

But it called for a permanent R&D tax credit, a clean energy bank, more federal oversight in locating transmission lines crucial to the development of wind and solar energy, and reaffirmed its commitment to extendingtax breaks for renewable power.

"The Chamber energy plan has a few elements that will increase clean energy innovation and job growth," said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress. "But it also proposes to weaken the safeguards that protect public health from air and water pollution."

Chief among critics' concerns is the Chamber's call to prohibit EPA from enforcing greenhouse gas rules.

The agency was directed by the Supreme Court to force companies to cut greenhouse gas emissions after the agency ruled that carbon dioxide was a threat to public health.

The Obama administration has allowed the EPA to be its enforcer after the administration's bid to cut greenhouse gases was defeated in the Senate last year.

But many business groups and coal-state lawmakers oppose the plan to use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases, saying it will cost jobs and raise energy prices.

"Unfortunately, in recent years [the Clean Air and Water Acts] have been used indiscriminately by the Environmental Protection Agency, certain states, and activists to threaten energy resources, facilities, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs they support in ways not originally envisioned by Congress," the Chamber said in its report.

The second lightening rod is the Chamber's call to open more areas of the country to oil and gas drilling.

"Access to more domestic energy resources is intentionally being limited by policy and regulation," the report said. "We can ill afford to turn our backs on the significant resources that we have here at home."

But Weiss said an emphasis on more domestic drilling is a distraction from reality, noting that the United States uses 20% of the world's oil but sits on just 2% of its proven reserves.

"There's no talk of saving oil, and there no way we can drill our way to energy security," he said.

But in other areas the Chamber embraced a more progressive energy agenda.

It called for a clean energy bank that would fund both renewable and nuclear power projects with loan guarantees from the federal government.

The business group also called for greater energy efficiency, including higher building and appliance standards -- something many in the appliance industry resisted last time they were hiked.

It also called for more streamlined regulations in permitting energy developments and more federal control over where transmission lines are built.

The streamlined regulations drew the ire of environmental groups, which fear it could weaken environmental protections. But a bigger federal role in power line permitting won applause.

New power lines are essential if the country is to move renewable electricity from the often remote locations were it's generated to population centers. But the lines have been held up local and state governments that don't want them in their backyard.

In another nod to the renewable energy industry, the Chamber reaffirmed its support for an eight year extension to the tax credits for wind and solar projects, a tax credit some conservative had called for eliminating.

The renewable business has long sought such an extension as it provides stability in their business plans. The industry maintains it will be competitive with fossil fuels by the time an eight-year tax credit expires. To top of page

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