Burr Says Rising Gas Prices and Unrest in the Middle East Provide GOP with Opportunity to Craft National Energy Policy

But cautions his party to not set expectations too high about what can be accomplished

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a speech at a Ripon Society energy forum last Thursday, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) said rising gas prices and unrest in the Middle East provide Republicans in Congress with an opportunity to do something that is long overdue in Washington – craft a national energy policy. But he also cautioned his party about what can — and cannot be — accomplished in that regard.

“When I accepted the invitation to come speak,” Burr stated, “I looked at all the economic sectors and thought energy’s pretty stable. I had no idea that oil was going to go above $100 and the Middle East was going to implode and that really, the future of energy policy and energy as we know it was going to be largely affected by what happens in the Middle East, at least on the short term. To quote Rahm Emanuel, ‘Never let a crisis go without the opportunity that goes along with it.’ So if there’s ever been a great opportunity to get an energy policy, now is the time as America watches.” That said, Burr also added a cautionary note aimed at the political reality of achieving that goal this year:

“I’m reminded of the fact that everybody has high expectations now that we’ve seen a shift in the political make-up in Washington,” he observed. “Well, let me let a little air out of the balloon. We control the House. We do not control the Senate. We do not control the White House. We’re not in charge. You can’t lose focus of that. This is a time to talk about bold things — if, in fact, you’ve got a possibility or pathway to do it. If not, then we will replicate a lot of things that we did in 1995 when we did have the House and the Senate and we set expectations at an unreasonable level for the American people. Even though Congress probably performed pretty well with a Democrat in the White House, in the eyes of the American people, we failed. And over a period of time, that chipped away at us.”

Burr is a member of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee. He made his comments at a forum The Ripon Society hosted on March 3rd focusing on “America’s Energy Future.” In addition to the Senator from North Carolina, other speakers at the forum included Washington Congressman Doc Hastings, the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield, the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy & Power.

In his remarks, Burr said the energy debate must be viewed by its impact on working families and businesses in the United States.

“There’s been no more challenging time in my lifetime than what the American people are going through right now,” he stated. “Day to day, the biggest challenge in their life changes. Last week, it may have been something different than gasoline. Today, it is gasoline prices.” At the same time, Burr noted that utilities and businesses will “make decisions based upon the cost of fuels, which may not be the best long-term decision for the United States. So it begs for a blueprint for where we go with energy policy.”

Referring to the economic upheavals and question marks that exist in the U.S. and other countries around the globe, Burr added: “The one area where we can have an impact on the comfort level of the American people is to give them some certainty as it relates to energy costs … Now, I would tell you that we have to establish what our goal is for energy. None of us could say what the national goal for energy is today. If you listen to the President, one day it’s energy independence, the next day it’s job creation, and the next day it’s an ideological coup. It can’t be all three – it’s got to be one thing. Without a known goal, it’s pretty tough to paint a picture for the American people of where we’re going.”

In addition to serving on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Burr is also the author of The Next Generation Energy Security Act, a comprehensive reform proposal that he and Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss introduced in June of last year. “It’s not perfect,” Burr said of the bill, “but it does address a whole lot of things that I think are important.”

“We’ve got to play to our strengths — nuclear, coal, natural gas,” he continued. “I’m not telling you that we’re not going to be advocates of wind, solar, geothermal, tidal or whatever we can get. But we’re all realists. And when you look at fully developed technology in all of those areas, we may get up to 12 percent of our energy needs. That’s about it. If you listen to the White House, you’d believe that wind and solar alone can replace every fossil fuel that we use. We know that’s not true. But more importantly, the path to get there is so prohibitively expensive that the strategy should be to incorporate what technology allows us to do today if the market conditions say it’s possible.”

Burr stated that he and Chambliss plan to introduce their reform proposal again this year. When they do, he said, the bill will include “a basket of renewables, and it will be driven and based upon what the market conditions are. Truthfully, if I was king for a day, I’d probably include ethanol under the Highway Trust Fund. Make them pay the tax. It would boost the infrastructure money. But at some point, ethanol needs to play as a market-conditioned product in our fuel stream. It has to. We can’t construct an energy future for our country that is subsidized or orchestrated by the federal government policies that are in place. The sooner we realize that, the better off we’re going to be, and the more likely we’re going to get buy-in from the American people.”

Burr, who served in the House of Representatives for 10 years prior to his election to the Senate in 2004, concluded his remarks by discussing the new Republican majority in the House, the need to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency, and why – even though it is unlikely that an energy bill will be approved this year – it is critical that Congress at least try.

“I look at my friends in the House and I see a great opportunity,” Burr said. “Bold things are not going to emanate from the United States Senate, I can assure you. But I think we have to be realists. The House is in a position to do one of two things — to propose and pass bold ideas, or to block really bad ideas from finding their way to the White House. For those things that are bold ideas, if there’s not an industry following them, guess what? It won’t go anywhere. For those things that are bold and they find an army behind them willing to spend the money, willing to mobilize people around the country, willing to take on the responsibility of the education, I don’t think you can underestimate with 22 Democrats and one Socialist in the Senate up for reelection what you might be able to accomplish as you get close to November 2012.”

“I’m not sure what you’d call what the EPA is doing today. Destruction of America? That might be a good term. How about we combine the EPA with the Department of Energy? How about we put the Environmental Protection Agency in where the Department of Energy is responsible for the one side of policy, and the EPA is responsible for the other side, and they’re going to have the internal battle before they come out and propose something. Maybe actually the Department of Energy would hold them responsible to do a cost benefit analysis of any regulation they’re about to propose.”

“We’ve got to use common sense as to how we go forward. But I will assure you this — just raise that issue and make it look like we’re going to have a vote on it, and I believe that the EPA’s going to be so consumed with trying to kill the effort to merge them that they’re not going to have time to put out new regulations. So in large measure, this is about how we stop the deterioration in its tracks. When you control one of the bodies, the threat of combining an agency because we control the purse strings is very real and will have a very real impact on those individuals whose job is reliant on the independence of that particular agency.”

“I’m not sure that an energy bill is achievable in the next 18 months. But we don’t do things because they’re achievable. We do them because we need it and it’s the right thing. And I would tell you we can’t send any better message right now to the Middle East, to anywhere else around the world, to the Chinese than America has finally decided that we’ve got a goal for energy, we’ve got a plan to get there, and it may turn into a two or three year national debate. But at the end of the day we’ll have the right policies if we do this in a methodical and thought-through way.”

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.