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Energy Week 2012 / ENERGY

Congressional Staffers at Texas Conference Demonstrate the Washington Partisan Spirit

photo of Amy Harder
March 5, 2012

HOUSTON—Two top Capitol Hill aides took their partisan bickering outside the Beltway and onto a stage at a major energy conference that kicked off here on Monday.

In front of a packed crowd at the IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) annual conference, Maryam Brown, chief counsel of the Republican-controlled House Energy and Power Subcommittee, blasted President Obama’s adoption of the GOP mantra for an “all of the above” energy policy. Sitting beside her was Bob Simon, longtime staff director to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

“We have found that the president’s ‘all of the above’ means all of the above except nothing from below,” Brown said, drawing muffled laughter from the crowd of hundreds of mainly fossil-fuel experts. Brown went on to say that Obama’s policies are hindering development of any energy that comes from the ground or uses resources from the ground, including oil, natural gas, and nuclear power that relies on uranium mining.

 

“It’s no natural gas. We’re not very comfortable with the progression of agency activities and regulations,” Brown said. “It’s no nuclear—I think Yucca [Mountain] says it all on nuclear,” she said, referring to the planned nuclear waste repository in Nevada that Obama put on ice soon after he took office in 2009.

Brown’s comments seemed to agitate Simon, who usually comes across as mild-mannered and apolitical.

“No nuclear?” Simon said with a touch of incredulity. “Isn’t this the president who just gave a huge multibillion-dollar loan guarantee to build two nuclear power plant reactors in Georgia?”

Brown interrupted to say the administration has not finalized that loan yet, which is true. Simon continued, unfazed. “Isn’t this the president whose Nuclear Regulatory Commission just approved permits?” he asked. “How can that be anti-nuclear?”

After Simon finished a point-by-point rebuttal of Brown’s comments on Obama’s energy policies, CERA Chairman Daniel Yergin said: “I think we have to give Maryam equal time.”

And then the partisan pendulum swing back to the GOP side of the fight. “Let’s take it from the top,” Brown said. Despite “modest progress” in some areas of nuclear power, she said, “most would concede that the key problem we have with nuclear policy in this country is long-term storage with nuclear waste.”

“I don’t see how you can characterize him as a pro-nuclear president when he’s short-circuited long-term storage,” she concluded.

The third panelist in the discussion, the senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Frank Verrastro, was given a chance to chime in. He said what many of the energy experts in the room might have been thinking.

“The biggest challenge to new nuclear post-Fukushima [the Japanese nuclear disaster] is low natural-gas prices,” Verrastro said.

The one glimmer of bipartisanship was the willingness of both Simon and Brown to support cybersecurity legislation, which is only a tangential energy issue. Discussion of that effort was then pushed aside by more partisan sniping over gasoline prices.

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