Reuters Summit-US CEOs Want Leadership on Carbon from Washington
Author: Jeffrey Jones and Euan Rocha
Instead of railing against regulations that would ultimately add to energy costs, power and gas company executives attending the Reuters Energy Summit in New York this week called for uniform national policies, rather than a state-by-state patchwork of measures.
In addition, they said, the US government should earmark
any money generated by new taxes or trading schemes for developing technological solutions for reducing and trapping carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming.
"The biggest thing lacking on the carbon issue right now is federal leadership," said Bruce Williamson, chief executive of independent power generator Dynegy Inc.
"What there tends to be is comments or proposals made, or sound bites that are made" rather than work toward bipartisan solutions, Williamson said.
His company runs both coal- and gas-fired power plants in the U.S Northeast, Midwest and California.
Siemens Power Generation Chief Executive Randy Zwirn said he had the impression that the federal government feels some pressure to come out with legislation.
"However," he said, "I think the pressure they are under is that if they don't act the individual states will."
The Northeast states and California have proposed their own regional strategies to address the climate change issue after the Bush Administration backed away from participation in the international Kyoto protocol on cutting emissions.
Williamson does not advocate doing nothing, but said he doubted there would be any action in the United States until after the 2008 presidential election.
The issue is at the forefront of US politics following dire warnings in former Vice President Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and by groups like the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
President Bush has acknowledged the problem but said he favored voluntary emissions goals and technological solutions rather than regulation.
At the Group of Eight summit Thursday, he rejected a proposal by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to set specific numerical emission reduction goals at the meeting.
One executive at the Reuters event said she did not want policies requiring the industrial sector to bear all costs of a cap-and-trade system, in which carbon dioxide emitters buy and sell emissions quotas.
"I believe that if we are going to have a truly effective climate change policy in the US it has got to be economywide," said Martha Wyrsch, chief executive of Spectra Energy Corp.'s gas transmission arm.
A carbon tax would be more even-handed, she said, but it's an unpopular choice for many consumers.
Dynegy's Williamson said he would accept either approach if the costs do not put the US economy into recession. He estimated power bills could jump by 30 percent to 40 percent under either scenario.
Under his proposal, money collected from the tax or cap-and-trade system would be directed at finding technological solutions, both in reducing industrial emissions and boosting energy efficiency.
In addition, he said, some proceeds should go to low- and middle-income consumers to help defray the huge jump in electricity costs.