US Chamber cautions Obama on climate legislation

06 November 2008 19:23  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Top US business leaders on Thursday welcomed Barack Obama’s election victory but cautioned that Democratic priorities for climate legislation must await an economic recovery and a sound energy policy from the new administration.


The US Chamber of Commerce officially welcomed the Obama election win at a press conference and promised to work with his administration toward economic recovery as the nation’s top policy objective.


But chamber officials also cautioned that climate change legislation favoured by the president-elect and many of his Democratic allies in Congress could cause severe damage to US chemical, steel and other major economic sectors that are already stressed by energy and feedstock costs.


Chamber President Thomas Donohue said that he already has spoken with President-elect Obama and members of his staff about the need “to pursue a national policy on energy security”.


“We have already spoken at length with Senator Obamwa and members of his staff about the pressing need to expand US domestic energy supply and access to those supplies along with pursuing alternative energy sources, conservation and energy efficiencies,” Donohue said.


Obama and Democrat leaders in Congress advocate an aggressive cap-and-trade climate control measure that would mandate reductions in US emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.  Such a plan would likely force a wide-scale shift by US electric utilities from coal as a power fuel to cleaner-burning natural gas.


However, congressional Democrat leaders remain opposed to oil and gas development along the US Atlantic and Pacific coasts, which until 30 September had been under a 27-year-old congressional drilling moratorium.


“We all learned in Economics 101 that if you have short supply and increasing demand, you’re going to get higher prices,” Donohue said.


He said that pursuing a climate control bill without first addressing a comprehensive national energy policy would undermine the economy.


“No one wants to see us go so far on one aspect of this, climate control, so as to make other objectives impossible to achieve,” he said.


Bruce Josten, the chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, noted that during his campaign, Obama voiced support for the end of the congressional ban on offshore drilling, and that it is reasonable to expect that as president Obama will support access to offshore energy reserves.


“You can only approach those two issues [climate and energy] in a rational way to do so without causing harm to the economy,” Josten said.


“We can’t do anything that will cause further harm to some of our key industries, such as chemicals and steel, that are already strained by energy costs,” he added.


The US chemicals industry is heavily dependent on natural gas as a feedstock and energy source, and much of the rest of the country’s manufacturing sector also is gas dependent.


Josten said he believes that Obama as president “will be very careful about how he approaches the economy”.


“It is my understanding that Obama’s first priority is to get our economy turned around and, second, to get a national energy policy,” Josten said.


“Moving first on a cap-and-trade climate bill would impose a big new tax on the nation’s businesses that would sink the economy still further,” he said.


The US Chamber of Commerce is a private sector trade association representing some 3m companies across all sectors of the economy, including many chemical and plastics manufacturers.


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By: Joe Kamalick
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