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Energy Breakfast Highlights Ideological Divide

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As gasoline prices approach nearly $4/gallon, there is increased attention devoted to energy policy both on the Presidential trail and in Congress. President Obama is arguing that there are no easy answers to high gasoline prices, and he is calling for an “all of the above” strategy that includes increased domestic oil and gas production and continued investment in renewables. Republican Presidential candidates and Members of Congress are generally criticizing the Administration for allegedly stifling domestic development and using taxpayer money on loan guarantees and tax incentives for renewable production.

This morning, PoliticoPro hosted its first 2012 Energy Breakfast with two high-profile Members of Congress on energy policy – House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chair Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA), who is also a member of this subcommittee.

This event reflected the deep ideological divide between Republicans and Democrats on energy policy. It should be noted that Representative Whitfield and Representative Doyle agreed on some issues, such as the support for Keystone XL pipeline. Representative Whitfield argued that instability in the Middle East, coupled with the Administration’s policies related to domestic development of oil and gas, are contributing to rising gasoline policies. On renewable energy, Representative Whitfield signaled that Republican oversight over loan guarantees to renewable companies would continue. Representative Whitfield also stated that it is unlikely that production tax credits for wind and solar generation, which are set to expire at the end of this year, will be extended.

On the other hand, Representative Doyle argued that increased domestic development will not significantly impact gasoline prices given the global nature of today’s crude oil markets. In addition, Representative Doyle expressed skepticism that releasing crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, as advocated by some Congressional Democrats, would have that much impact on crude prices.

Moving forward, both Members expressed differences as to what our national energy policy should look like. If a Republican were to defeat President Obama in November, Representative Whitfield expressed a desire to reform the Clean Air Act, arguing that the public health benefits of recent rulemaking, such as the Utility MACT rule, are overstated by EPA. Representative Doyle called for a long-term solution that transitions the U.S. away from its dependence on crude oil. In particular, Representative Doyle expressed support for natural gas vehicles and tax incentives to help spur the construction of refueling stations.

As we head into this November’s Presidential election, this event highlights the sea change on energy policy since 2008. At this time four years ago, both then-Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain supported cap-and-trade legislation and more bipartisan support existed for tax credits and other federal funding for renewable and alternative energy production. For a variety of reasons, bipartisan support for action on climate and support for renewable no longer exists.

Given this erosion, it remains to be seen what, if any, new consensus develops on energy policy following the 2012 elections.