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Hearing of the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee - Administration Perspectives on United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali

Interview

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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REP. RALPH M. HALL (R-TX): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I've noted concern on both sides, here, about different aspects, here. I think the gentleman from San Antonio, Mr. Gonzalez, was concerned about the cost, and there's a good follow up question there, as I'm concerned about who pays. And I don't know how much discussion took place on that little bitty island down there with 185 or six nations, there, and 10 or 11 thousand people, a little place no bigger than Delaware, how much concern there was for who paid and how much talk there was for who paid. It's something they don't want to talk about, and then the gentleman from Washington wanted to know, and it's a good question what's the incentive for the use of coal. And I don't know, I'd ask you that question, but I think you'd probably agree with me that the incentive is there's a lot of it and it's in the right place. I understand that we have more usable coal than just about anybody. Is that fairly, is that close to being correct?

MR. CONNAUGHTON: That's correct. The United States and a handful of other countries have lots of reserves of coal.

REP. HALL: Well you call that agreement a roadmap, and I guess it's a roadmap just to guide them somewhere around 2012, that gives me some concern too, that figure. At my age, George Burns said he didn't buy green bananas, I don't know if I can wait until 2012 or not, but I do have children and grandchildren, so I'm interested in that. I just wondered, on a roadmap, if the building of the road is expensive, that's the major expense, but there are a lot of other expenses to it; there's overpasses, there are grade separations, I think engineers call them, there's detour signs, there's bridges, and I hope in this roadmap they've got a lot of caution signs, you see a good many of those on new roads.

I hope they have some bad bridge ahead signs and a lot of stop signs; you don't hear somebody came a long with a lot of no right turn signs here in Washington, I don't know about left turns or who goes left or who goes right, but this is a situation that really ought to concern every one of us and our children and the people we have to go home to to talk to. And we ought to be honest enough to talk to them about the cost, and by gosh who pays. I want to ask you how different is this framework from the framework that they limped away from at the Kyoto meeting?

MR. CONNAUGHTON: Well, actually, fortunately, Congressman, this framework is a step forward. The intensity and what you heard reported out of Bali before we reached a final agreement was really about whether we would fall back to the flawed approach of Kyoto or step forward to constructive engagement, especially with the major developing countries. And that was a big battle in Bali. Fortunately, we did come together recognizing that we have to move on this together if it's going to work, and that the major developing countries have to take actions, too, if this is going to work. And now we have to open up our eyes consistent with your caution point. There are many, many difficult issues that we have to confront to take this seriously, in particular with the developing countries because of the aspirations to lift their people out of poverty.

And energy is essential to that.

REP. HALL: How far down the road and who pays to get to the point, and I'm not among those who say there's nothing to it, I think it's good common sense and logic to pursue it and to seek the technology and to try to take care of the fossil fuels that have taken care of us for so many years, and to find technology that will make a cleaner place for the people who will be here after we're all gone. But I think we need to talk about the cost and we need to have some way of paying that cost. And we may have some level of place to decide whether or not we're pouring that cost into something that won't ever come back to us, ever come back to us. We're not assured that it's going to.

So that's the reason we study, and the reason you're being kind enough and the President sent one of his finest men down there to work out something with these folks, and you're trying to do it. I recognize that. But we need, I guess, if I may ask you what you see as a goal for the major economies meeting in the Asia Pacific partnership and the UN process? Do you want to address that just briefly, because I have a lot more things I really want to say.

MR. CONNAUGHTON: The major economies we hope to focus on -- five or six elements of this much bigger Bali roadmap, that relate to those of us who use a lot of energy and emit a lot of greenhouse gases. Can we agree on a long term goal? Can we find some key sectors like fossil power generation, alternatives to petroleum, forestry, a few others where we can do joint work, set joint objectives and actually, you know, commit ourselves to achieve those objectives? And then, come up with some more, broader and more innovative ways of financing goods and services and removing the trade barriers to those goods and services so countries will actually use the technology we've got.

Right now, we put up obstacles to that, and that's just nutty. And we can stop that this year if the leaders agreed on it. Instead, parochial interests get in the way. So, there's some very specific things we can achieve there.

And then you asked about the Asia Pacific Partnership, and I appreciate that because we started that three years ago and it's actually working. We have India and China in key sectors making specific commitments and holding themselves accountable to meeting those commitments. We negotiated it in six months. This private sector is working well with the government people and you don't hear about it because nobody is complaining.

Now, I think the Congress didn't help this year. We've gotten some restrictions on the funding for that when it's going to deliver two way trade in clean energy goods and services in key sectors. So we would hope to work with this committee and maybe you can help us persuade the appropriators that this very low cost taxpayer funded activity is going to yield massive dividends in getting cooperative action with the countries that we've got to find that cooperative action.

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