More Energy On Energy Policy Needed In Washington

Solving the energy riddle will take take time and money, but it will also require leadership. More than a few in Corporate America are looking to Washington for that.

On a state level, governors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger of California,Brian Schweitzer of Montana, Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania and James Doyle of Wisconsin are pushing green agendas and addressing climate change, frustrated by the lack of a national guidelines and incentives.

Christine Todd Whitman earned recognition for her green ways while she was Governor of New Jersey from 1994-2001. She then went on to head the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003. At the EPA, she established the first federal program to promote redevelopment and reuse of brownfield sites, previously contaminated industrial land.

In 2004, she founded the Whitman Strategy Group, a business consulting firm that specializes in government relations and such environmental and energy issues as climate change and green development. Clients include companies such as Gale International, which is building New Songdo City, a master-planned business and residential development outside of Seoul, South Korea, billed as the world's most environmentally friendly city.

Whitman, who supports a carbon cap, shared her views on government and business and the green issue.

Christie Todd Whitman
Christie Todd Whitman

Do we need a national energy policy?

There’s no question that we need to have a comprehensive energy policy. There are a couple of bills working their way through Congress now, but with the presidential election, the chances of anything passing are slim to none.

Why the systemic, long-term failure?

It is a difficult thing to do. What kind of incentives you put where … what do you do with renewable or nuclear energy?These are tough questions and no one wants to answer them. It is a difficult discussion. There are single-issue parties in this discussion. People tend to paint it in black and white. Then, of course, you have the infrastructure issue and things like transmission lines ... no one wants them

Isn’t a sense of realism, compromise needed at this point? For instance, no one wants transmission lines, refineries and LNG facilities in their back yard, but we need them don’t we?

It has to happen sooner or later. It is going to take national leadership, on the federal level, from the next president and the cabinet. Americans, we don’t respond well until we have a crisis. And energy policy isn't something that is going to happen quickly when we have one, when you’re having rolling brown outs. That’s not something we can wait on.

Have any of the presidential candidates shown the potential for such leadership on the issue?

Hopefully any of them can. I haven’t heard any of them talk very deeply about a national energy policy. [Sen.] Hillary Clinton touched on it. [Formey New York City Mayor] Rudy Giuliani touched on it. [Sen.] Barrack Obama, I guess, has come the closest to saying something broad about it.

Business says this is clearly a case for government leadership. Do you agree?

I’m not for big government but if ever there was a role for government, this is it. It is a national infrastructure issue, among other things, and it will affect our economy.

What about climate change? Are we doing a good job there? Is a policy on climate change needed as well?

Well, if we were to have a cap on carbon we certainly would. Right now we have voluntary programs and they’re working to a degree, but not making the kind of difference that we need.

What are you hearing from your clients on these issues?

A lot of them are frustrated by not having a better national energy policy and having a better framework to get things done. They want to do the right thing. So it's hard. They do have to make money, of course. But as far as the overall issue is concerned most of them are believers that we have to take action on climate change. Also, the ones that want to get out front and do the right thing, they’re realizing it gives them a leg up and helps them compete.

Describe the dialogue you have with your clients?

What we do is talk to them about the kinds of alternative things they can do and should be promoting. We also work with them on the kinds of programs they can and should be doing so they can get public credit, recognition. Like the New Songdo City project. Being green meant an additional cost of only 3 percent, but it has drawn attention.

Can green make money?

One of the boards I sit on is United Technologies. It had a bad track record, say 12 years ago. They wanted to be a leader. They have reduced energy consumption by 19 percent and doubled the profit of the company

Businesses are seeing that it may cost them more up front, but the return comes faster than it used to be. Also, the public and shareholders are demanding it.

What do you think of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and other governors taking initiatives, taking leadership on this?

He has been a great model. It is one of those times when the states get ahead of the federal government on issues. What they are doing is forcing the federal government's hand.

How did you get into the environment?

I grew up on a farm and that will do it. You spend a lot of your time outdoors. Living on a farm you learn a lot about the rhythms of nature and how they can be thrown off. It is part of my makeup.