Open for Questions: The Year in Clean Energy

Mr. Russell: Good afternoon I'm Tony Russell. I'm the communication adviser for the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change. I'm here today with Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. This week the White House is inviting Americans across the country to connect directly with some of these administration's senior advisers. These leaders will talk to you about where we have been, where we are and where we are going. We are honored today to kick off the series with the discussion with the President and the administration, what they have done so far to create jobs and lay the foundation for a new clean energy economy. We'll be taking your questions live via Facebook and on White House.Gov, and at this time I'll turn it over to Carol to open it up. Ms. Browner: Thank you, Tony. And let me thank all of you who are joining us on Facebook today. It's a pleasure to be here with you.

Let me just give you a little explanation of what my office does, and what we have been working to accomplish on behalf of the American people over the last year and in this coming area. The President have long had senior advisers on important issues. This president chose to create a new position in the White House a position for a senior adviser on energy and climate change. And he did that because he believes this issue is so important to our security, to our future and to the jobs we need to create to make us competitive in the global demand for clean energy technologies. And so what my office has been doing is working closely with the president, working with cabinet members to bring to communities and to bring to stays and bring across the country a real change in our energy future. And what that means is we need to break our dependence on foreign oil. We need to create a new generation of clean energy jobs. And we need to put a cap on the dangerous pollutants that contribute to climate change.

Last year we focused our work initially with Congress on securing dollars in the over act, over $80 billion for clean energy technologies. Those dollars are rolling out. The jobs are being created. And later this week we'll have a report on some of those jobs that will be available. We worked with the EPA and the Department of Transportation, all of the major automobile manufacturers, to secure an agreement on the cleanest cars over to the people of this country. The law said we needed to have cars that were 35 miles per gallon by 2020. We were able by working cooperatively to reach an agreement for 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 and the first ever greenhouse gas standards. And what that means for Americans is that when you fill up your car a gallon of gas will go further. And finally we worked with Congress to develop comprehensive energy legislation.

The House passed a bill earlier in the middle of last year and now we are working in the Senate. Some of the committees have already acted in the Senate. And there's a bi-partisan group of Senator Kerry, Senator Graham, from South Carolina, and Joe Lieberman, working to put together a comprehensive bill for consideration later this year in the senate. So we any we are off to a very good start in terms of changing our country's energy future. And we look forward to the conversation today. Mr. Russell: Great. We are getting lots of questions so far. So I'll go ahead and start with a question from Orlando, living here in the southwest, I really want to see a solar panel on every house and business. It is shameful that the rest of the world is bypassing us in technological prowess. So I guess the question is what are we doing to maintain our competitiveness? Ms. Browner: Well, we agree, we want to see a solar panel all on winter buy-in, wherever it is appropriate.

And the single most important thing we can do to get those facilities in place, is to give the private sector the kind of certainty and predictability that comprehensive energy legislation will give them. The reason we make investments in new technologies is because there is a demand, because there are people out there who want to use those technologies. Right now, we don't have those signals in place. And I meet with business leaders every week who say to me I need to understand what is going to be required. I need to know that if I make an investment, that I'll be able to get a return on that investment. And so, we have been working as I said with Congress to get comprehensive energy legislation, which will include things like a renewable energy standard, a standard that would say we are going to get so much of our energy from renewable sources.

We think that would really stand us in good stead in terms of driving the demand and then we will be able to build the facilities here to manufacture the component parts of solar and wind farms and hopefully lead the world in the global competition. Now the President likes to point out that we were, this country, our country was at the forefront of creating these technologies. But we are not at the forefront today in manufacturing and selling those technologies and we need to be if we want to be. On Friday, the president announced almost more than $2 billion in tax credits for companies who are willing to make investments, create good American jobs to build these technologies. And that's the important first step. The next step is to get the certainty. We get that through comprehensive legislation with Congress. Mr. Russell: Okay, Richard West, pardon me if I mispronounce this, (inaudible).

He had a question about tax credit policies needs. And — excuse me — the production tax credit policy needs to be multi-years so the companies can invest in long-term renewable projects. Does anyone know if this has been done yet? Ms. Browner: This is obviously a very informed questioner here. There have over the years been production tax credits for wind farms, for solar, for other types of renewable energy. They have not been consistent and in you some instances they have been extended for longer periods of time for certain parts of the renewable industry, but not for other parts of the renewable industry. One of the things we were able to do in the recovery act is great consistency for these production tax credits. Let me briefly explain what a production tax credit. Once you build your wind farm, you build your solar farm, when you turn it on you have to actually make a operational. Then you are eligible for a tax credit.

And we do have some of those in place now and I certainly agree with the questioner that these have been tremendously valuable and stimulating the investments in these new renewable technologies and we want to continue to see those investments into the future. Mr. Russell: Thank you. Scott (inaudible) good question, I've asked it myself actually. What tax breaks can you suggest for the average home owner that will provide some incentive to for being greener? Ms. Browner: Well, there are existing tax credits and I'm not the authority on it so I'll refer you to an IRS website. But in the recovery act we were able to get some home owner's tax credits. So for example, if you replace, I think it's a certain air conditioning and heating systems. I think if you insulate your home, if you upgrade your windows to certain efficiency standards.

There are tax credits that are available today. As I said I'm not the expert, so please, don't do any of these things without checking with the IRS on what is eligible, because there are some really important instructions associated with these tax credits. But, a real opportunity for homeowners who want to make investments in upgrading their houses and what we are found over the years and people who pay attention to individual home owner energy use. These can be quite efficient. In other words you can get a pay back in terms it of a lower monthly bill pretty quickly on some of these investments, well worth the dollar spent. Mr. Russell: There's been a couple of comments coming across about appliance efficiency. Maybe you can go a little more into the appliance efficiency program. Ms. Browner: One of the other things we started last year under the leadership of Dr. Chu at the Department of Energy, is to fully implement the laws on the books.

There are laws in place requiring the Department of Energy to tighten efficiency standards for appliances. Everything from household appliances, refrigerators, air conditioning, all the way to bigger refrigeration systems that you might see in a grocery store or a convenience store. And they are now on track. I think they have gotten several done in the course of last year, and on track to really fully implement. A lot of it has been on the books for a while but hasn't been implemented. And those appliance efficiency standards, again will result in real savings for individual consumers and for the big commercial users some important savings in terms of their energy use. Mr. Russell: Steven (inaudible) has a question. I would like to hear what your offices what is your office's position on the creation of jobs related to natural gas stations, supporting businesses to retrofit gas to burn natural gas. This could be a very big winner for security, climate, jobs. Is there anything in the works? Ms.

Browner: We certainly believe that part of the comprehensive energy policy is breaking our dependence on foreign oil. And when we look at you know what are the domestic opportunities, certainly the recent finds in terms of natural gas, they are significant, they are much larger than anyone had anticipated. And we think they provide a real opportunity, not just in terms of vehicles. Certainly for fleets. People are probably away that a lot of fleets are starting to convert in of already converted — they are local fleets, delivery fleets to natural gas. There's a lot of work going on for longer hall vehicles in terms of natural gas. Natural gas may also provide a bridge fuel in terms it of electric production. You know ultimately I think we are all where we want to get to is more electric vehicles, cleaner more efficient vehicles, but certainly natural gas is an important part of our energy future. Needs to be a bigger part of our energy future.

Mr. Russell: Robert (inaudible) He makes a statement that green jobs, he talks about a study by American society of civil engineers and infrastructure report card they did. Talking about our infrastructure and its increasing age, adjusting highways, the sewage system. Perhaps you can talk a little bit about what we are doing to try and lead by examples to the federal sustainability program in looking at ourselves to see how we can do better. Ms. Browner: The President signed an executive order on sustainability several months ago. I think in the spring of last year. And what this requires is for each agency of the federal government from the Department of Defense, all the way down to a smaller agency, to take a look at their energy use and to develop plans to dramatically reduce their energy use. Because we do believe that we need to provide examples. We need to provide leadership here in the federal government. And those studies and reports and plans are being developed and I think announced relatively soon and I've seen the early drops in this incredibly encouraging what these agencies, dependents want to do and the kind of reductions they think they can achieve.

Just showing that there really are tremendous opportunities on the efficiency side. When we talk about our energies and we talk about changing our energy future, we have to be mindful not just of all of the new technologies which are incredibly important and position us in the global market for clean energy technologies, but we also need to talk about what we can do through efficiency and as it turns out there's an awful lot of things we can do in the near term that will help us reduce our energy use which means less greenhouse gas emissions and cleaner air for people to breathe. Mr. Russell: Sam Caldwell asked a question about plans for nuclear plants. Can you maybe talk about the rule of nuclear and President Obama's plan? Ms. Browner: President believes that nuclear needs to be a part of our energy future.

You know, I think if you believe as we do that climate change is a serious problem, it's a problem that needs to be addressed, then you need to be open to what are all of the ways in which we can produce energy in a clean manner. And so, nuclear obviously is one of those. And we have been working with the nuclear industry, to understand exactly what it is they need. We have not built a nuclear plant in this country in a long time but we want to work with the industry to make that happen in the not due distant future. Mr. Russell: Holly Hoffman (sic) asked a question. Can you explain how this push for clean energy by making current energy sources unaffordable is going to positively affect our middle class and small businesses, shouldn't we have first created an alternative energy source that was affordable and readily available to all citizens and then to make all other sources unaffordable? Ms.

Browner: Well, I'm not sure I followed the question, but what we need to do is make sure that we are encouraging investments in clean energy. And the only way people are going to make investments in clean energy, the only way businesses are going to make investments in clean energy is if they know that that clean energy can be sold and that people will buy it. And the best way to do that is to make sure we have given some clear rules and some clear standards so that industry can develop their technologies that can make their investments in accordance with those standards. Now one of the things prior to being here in the White House during another administration, I ran the environmental protection agency for eight years. And one of the things I discovered in running that agency and implementing important environmental laws, like the Clean Air Act is that frequently when we debate how to reduce our pollution, whether it's air pollution or water pollution. We get concerned and rightfully so that the cost associated with those reductions could be high. But what history actually shows us is that once we make the decision and we set the standard, American innovation and ingenuity rises to the occasion and we find a much cheaper way to solve the problem.

There was a debate in this country back in 1990 about the hole in the ozone, that hole that allows the ultraviolet rays of the sun to come through and can contribute to increases in skin cancer. And we knew the chemicals that were contributing to that hole in the ozone and there was that decision much, much debate and much fear that we wouldn't have refrigeration, wouldn't have air conditioning in our cars because the chemical was associated with refrigeration, but a decision was made to essentially ban that chemical. And what happened with that decision by Congress in that instance is that companies realize there was an opportunity that the company who could invent, bring to market first the replacement, would have an opportunity to sell that replacement because people weren't going to be allowed to use the chemicals they had been using. And as we think about your energy future, we need to create the same kind of opportunity.

And I feel quite confident based on the experience of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. That when we put in place those deadlines, those requirements that what he we are going to find, once again American innovation an ingenuity is going to rise to the occasion and we are going to get a much cheaper solution to the problem than we can anticipate today. Mr. Russell: Patricia (inaudible) asked a good question, please give us what type of green jobs are being targeted by the administration, new green jobs. I know the vice-president just gave the president a report back in December on new clean energy jobs. Maybe you can summarize some of that. Ms. Browner: Well, I think that there's any number and again as — we did a report last year, at the end of last year. And then we had the president's announcement for the tax credit.

What we are talking about is everything from the people who billed assemble the turbines for a wind farm, build the mast, build the blades, build that wind farm. Build solar panel. The list goes on and on. There's a one of the tax credits that we talk about earlier was for windows, for more energy efficient windows. Well, there are companies who build these more energy efficient windows that have been retiring people because of this tax credit. In my mind that's a green job. It's a combination of doing things that we have been doing and doing more of them, but it's also about creating a different type of job, different type of skill set, so that we can build the facilities we need here in the United States, whether it be a battery manufacturing facility, for battery operated cars or it be the winter solar panels. But also so that we can then develop an export market. There is a tremendous global demand for these clean energy technologies and we need to be — we, United States needs to be at the forefront of meeting that demand.

Those are good clean energy jobs here in America. Mr. Russell: Eric Waters, he asked a question what is the administration's stance on off shore wind development? Ms. Browner: The Secretary of Interior who is responsible for the permitting and siting of off-shore wind, Ken Salazar put in place a process last year that will allow for those companies looking to develop off-shore wind to move through the siting process and get the kind of permits. There's lots of opportunity off shore to generate some important clean energy. And we want to take advantage of that. Mr. Russell: There's been a couple of questions asked about how you go about regulating C02 emissions. Ms. Browner: What we believe and what the president believes is the best way to do it is to put a cap on how much these dangerous pollute and the can be in the environment, and then to use a trading mechanism that companies that emit have to carry allowances for their emissions.

They can make decisions to acquire those allowances or make reduction and therefore not need as many allowances. And this is based on a program we developed in the '90's for the acid rain problem that was obviously ruining forests in the northeast. And what happened in that instance is the cost of reducing the acid rain, the S02 that contributes to acid rain, turned out to be far less than people had anticipated because you were using a market mechanism to find cheapest reduction rather than the government coming along saying everybody has to reduce their emissions by 10, 20, 30, 40 percent. You're simply saying here's a cap and as long as the overall emissions meet that cap, there may be some individual facilities that are slightly above, some below, but you use this trading regime to find the cheapest way of achieving that cap. And we think it can be hugely successful and in giving us both the environmental game that we want and we think are important, but also the flexibility and the cost savings to meet the challenge of greenhouse gas, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. Russell: One question asked. Why we don't model our energy system off that of clean European countries. Ms. Browner: That's an interesting question. As I mentioned previously I was surgeon in another administration in EPA when we were developing actually this cap and trade system. And back in the '90's we tried to encourage the Europeans to embrace the cap and trade mechanism for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. At that point in time we are not interested in it. Today they are actually using a cap and trade system. So they have actually been learning from us. Now they are ahead of us at this point in time. We didn't do as much over the last, under the prior administration and they were quite aggressive in putting in place the kind of standards to get the kind of capital investments to develop the workforce. But we are doing our level best to catch up. Mr.

Russell: (inaudible) asked wouldn't have a firm international tree that sets standards that are scientists and others recommend be a good way to start a global green economy? I think maybe you can get an opportunity to talk about Copenhagen and other international programs. Ms. Browner: I'm sure as many of you listening today know, the president in the middle part of December, traveled to the international climate change meeting in Copenhagen. I had the honor of traveling with him. It was a very, very important turn of events, not perhaps what everyone wanted when this process started, but what was important is you now have both China and India among the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions agreeing that it is time to do something. And that hadn't happened previously.

And so we are very encouraged by the process that happened at Copenhagen. It is not a binding legal agreement that was sinister, it was an accord, and the countries will subscribe to it appropriately. But it's an important step and you know with time the world will find its way, I believe to a binding international treat at this, but in the meantime, what we need to do here in the United States, is focus our intention on making sure we have the right laws in place for comprehensive energy reform. And we are quite pleased with the outcome of Copenhagen and we are going to continue to engage with the rest of the record while we work here domestically to get our legislative bill passed. Mr. Russell: Here's another good question, can you talk about the environmental education's role in rethinking the needs to happen in order for a shift to take place in terms of how we treat the resources we have. Ms. Browner: I do think it's important to educate our selves, to educate our children. I'll give you a simple example. One of the programs in the recovery act, if something was referred to as smart meters and what smart meters do is give us the opportunity to understand within our home how we are using energy, when we are using energy, can we use a little bit less energy and what the studies have found is that when people become aware of how much energy they are using, they make decisions to use their energy more wisely.

I was talking to someone who got a meter recently and they said to me, it turns out that they have two stereo systems in their house and one uses about four or five times as much energy as the other one. And they said, you know I didn't know that before, he said my experience is exactly the same. They are both stereos. But know I know to think about what that energy uses. I'm losing my voice. Mr. Russell: We have — at this time — we have, I think that's all we have time for anyways. Thank you very much. Ms. Browner: Sorry I didn't mean to lose my voice on you people. Mr. Russell: Thank you very much everybody for participating, you had great questions, great comments. We hope you'll join us again tomorrow where I think it's going to be Ben Rose from the National Security Council talking about President Obama and foreign policy, national security programs. Ms. Browner: And I don't really have my voice back, but let me also thank everybody for joining us today and hope you can join us throughout the week, thank you.