Candidate Questions – 4th Congressional District
The work we do is local, but we are not alone. At last October’s Summit on Energy and the Environment, we explored the shared responsibility among households, communities and the Commonwealth in creating our energy and economic future. Our Federal Government’s action – or inaction – defines the environment in which we work.
This November 6th, Needham voters, along with the rest of the 4th Massachusetts Congressional District, will be choosing a new Representative in Congress. We think it’s important to understand the thinking, views and positions of the candidates on issues of climate, energy and the environment.
So we put together some questions and asked them. We thank both Joe Kennedy and Sean Bielat for their thoughtful responses and we hope you find them helpful.
1. Do you believe that global climate change is a problem that requires policy and action at the federal level? If so, what would you propose? If not, why not?
Yes, global climate change is an issue that should be addressed at the federal level as necessary. The starting point should be a non-politicized assessment of the relevant science and research. The follow-on to the research should be a non-politicized assessment of options to deal with identified, reversible or preventable, issues. Any resulting policy action should favor economically sustainable, market-driven solutions over regulation. It’s important to realize though that global climate change is an issue of global concern; the U.S. shouldn’t act unilaterally to enact any solutions that harm the U.S. economy or U.S. competitiveness.
Yes, I believe that climate change threatens irreparable harm to our ecosystems and economy, and that it is a problem that requires action at the federal level. In Congress, I will work collaboratively and constructively to develop a comprehensive and balanced national energy policy that addresses climate change among other environmental challenges while taking into account the costs to consumers and businesses. My approach would focus on four main components: energy conservation and efficiency, increased efficiency in the use of transportation fuels, increased investments in renewable energy, and responsible harvesting of domestic fossil fuels.
2. Should federal energy policy support a transition to renewable energy and away from fossil fuels?
Federal energy policy shouldn’t favor any particular energy solutions, whether fossil fuel based or renewable. What the U.S. government can and should do is leverage its purchasing power, e.g., via the Department of Defense, to hold competitive bid acquisitions that provide greater overall economic value and which potentially advance development of alternative power sources.
Yes, increasing our investment in wind, solar, geothermal, hydro-power, and biofuels will further reduce our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels and slash greenhouse gases and other emissions. I do believe that federal energy policy should support a transition to these renewable sources. For example, I support setting a national renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to build on the successes of the 29 states that have used that approach to accelerate their development of renewable energy. I also support the long-term development of the offshore wind industry in the Northeast, including the Cape Wind project, which alone will nearly double the amount of renewable power produced in Massachusetts.
3. Virtually all forms of energy benefit from government subsidies, largely but not exclusively tax preferences and R&D spending. The US EIA estimated the total of these subsidies at $16.6 billion in FY 2007 in a report requested by Congress). What is your view on the role of such subsidies in energy production? What is your position on existing subsidies by fuel type (coal, oil/petroleum, natural gas, nuclear, renewables)?
I generally oppose subsidies; that holds true across energy production types. Subsidies effectively use tax payer dollars that indirectly raise costs to consumers, making consumers “pay” twice.
The Production Tax Credit for wind-energy projects has successfully increased the development of wind power and led to significant price reductions, so in the short term I support extending that credit to promote further renewable production. For nuclear power – which I think has a role to play because of its ability to create baseload power without greenhouse emissions – I would proceed cautiously with extending subsidies to new nuclear power plants, but I recognize such subsidies may be necessary to make nuclear energy cost-competitive in the short-term. The oil and gas industry currently receives $4 billion annually in direct federal subsidies. This is one of the most profitable sectors in the history of global commerce, so I believe we should re-direct those funds to other priorities. In the long-term, I would like to see all energy sources stand on their own, without subsidy, as long as their full financial and environmental costs were accounted for.
4. Do you support or oppose the US military’s efforts to reduce energy use and pursue the development and deployment of renewable energy?
I absolutely support all defense efforts to limit energy use in order to reduce the logistical load in the battlespace, while increasing combat capabilities.
Government can be – and has been – a first mover in helping stimulate the demand for energy-efficient technologies. I strongly support efforts in all areas of government to reduce energy use and pursue renewable energy alternatives. The military’s heavy demand for energy on its bases and battlefields make it a good candidate for those efforts. Further, successful energy-saving technologies and strategies developed by government entities such as the military can often subsequently be integrated into commercial and residential markets.
5. It has been argued that environmental protection and energy independence can be mutually supportive of job creation and economic development. Do you agree or disagree?
I agree they can be and I believe strongly that they should be. Market-oriented solutions produce better outcomes, are more sustainable over the long-term, and are more politically viable.
I absolutely agree that good environmental and energy policy can be supportive of job creation and economic development. For example, programs like the Obama Administration’s Homestar Energy Efficiency Retrofit Program can help drive households and small-businesses to achieve cost-saving energy-efficiency improvements while also creating hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs to do the retrofitting. There are many other infrastructure projects such as upgrading our power grid to a smart-grid that are environmentally beneficial and energy saving while also being pro-growth and job-creating.
6. Do you support the recently adopted CAFE mileage standards?
Many people associate CAFE standards with vehicle emissions; however, addressing emissions through fuel standards is ineffective. Concerns with emissions should be addressed via emissions standards. If the concern is dependence on foreign oil, then increases in domestic oil production should theoretically reduce required CAFE increases. Market dynamics will push people towards more fuel-efficient vehicles. I’m skeptical that CAFE standards are the most effective way to deal with emissions or dependence on foreign oil.
Yes. Transportation produces about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and consumes 70 percent of all the petroleum we use. Improved fuel-efficiency standards are the best tool we have to reduce our petroleum use, put downward pressure on the cost of gasoline at the pump, and ease pressure on domestic drilling needs. I support the planned increase in CAFÉ standards to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 and 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
7. Regulation plays a role in environmental protection, the safety of our food supply, public health, product safety and energy. Which of the following comes closest to your view on how regulation should be done:
- None or minimal regulation
- Industry-set voluntary standards
- Enforceable standards set by industry, regulators and other stakeholders
- Goals-based regulation set collaboratively by regulators and industry
- Proscriptive regulation set by regulators with input from industry
All but a very tiny minority of people don’t see the need for a certain level of regulation. However, regulation should only be used where market solutions aren’t possible and market forces aren’t sufficient. The goal should always be to address problems that must be addressed in the way that is most effective, economically sustainable, and least economically harmful. That could mean that the best approach could be any of the above depending on the issue.
Regulations should be set by regulators, but I would welcome input from stakeholders, including both industry and advocates, on how best to balance competing interests and make regulations as smart and cost-effective as possible. I believe that smarter regulations can help the environment and spur economic growth.
8. Massachusetts is recognized nationally as a leader in many areas of energy policy (energy efficiency, renewables, R&D, deregulation). What Massachusetts policies, if any, would you like to see replicated nationally?
Massachusetts has done a very good job leveraging its world class universities and researchers in conjunction with private-public collaborations of various types. The results have been an explosion of industry-leading technologies. National policies supporting private-public collaborations and increasing tax credits for R&D (of all types) would help bring some of the same success that we’ve seen in Massachusetts to other parts of the country.
I agree that Massachusetts is doing some impressive things in energy policy and development, and there are many ways that our success could be replicated and the national level. One example is the “demand response” technology being developed by innovative Massachusetts companies like EnerNOC and World Energy, which pay large energy consumers to reduce their electricity demand when prices are high. I would like to see additional efforts in other states and at the national level to replicate Massachusetts’s success in wind-energy investments. Massachusetts is also party to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, or “Reggie”), which has been a form of across-state cooperation that I think could serve as a model for multi-state or national cooperation for a range of different environmental issues.