Kevin Book
Managing Director, ClearView Energy Partners

Energy and the environment may not have been leading national issues in the U.S. mid-terms elections, but the results will nevertheless influence public policy in Washington, D.C. and states across the nation. 

On this edition of the Columbia Energy Exchange, host Bill Loveless sits down with Kevin Book, a managing director of the consulting firm ClearView Energy Partners, to talk about the election results, including what they mean for energy and environmental policies and regulations during the next two years of the Trump administration.

As well as heading the research team at ClearView, Kevin is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Petroleum Council, as well as a non-resident senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Prior to co-founding ClearView, Kevin worked as a senior energy analyst for a national investment bank.

In addition to discussing the federal policy landscape looking out to 2020, when Bill and Kevin got together in Washington, D.C. they also looked at key referenda at the state level, including measures calling for a carbon fee in Washington state, higher renewable energy standards in Arizona and Nevada, and restrictions on oil and natural gas drilling in Colorado.

View the transcript

Bill Loveless:  Energy may not have been a leading issue in the midterm elections in the United States.  But the results were nevertheless influence public policy in Washington DC and among the states.  With the polls closed now, we can begin to figure out just what may lie in store.  Hello and welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange.  A weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.  From Washington, I’m Bill Loveless.  Our guest today is Kevin Book, the managing director of the consulting firm ClearView Energy Partners in Washington, someone I and other energy journalists often turn to for clear and witty analysis of energy policy, politics and business.  In addition to heading the research team at ClearView, Kevin is a member of Council on Foreign Relations and the National Petroleum Council, as well as a non-resident senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  Kevin and I got together at the National Press Club in Washington to talk about the elections, including what it means for policy and regulation during the next two years of the Trump administration.  We also took a look at key referenda in the states including measures calling for a carbon fee in Washington state, higher renewable portfolio standards in Arizona and Nevada and restrictions on oil and gas drilling in Colorado.  Here is our conversation.  I hope you enjoy it.

 

Kevin Book, welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[00:01:31]

 

Kevin Book:  Thanks for having me, Bill.

 

[00:01:32]

 

Bill Loveless:  It’s good to see you again.

 

[00:01:33]

 

Kevin Book:  It’s good to see you.

 

[00:01:34]

 

Bill Loveless:  You’re in the business, Kevin of tying together policy, politics and the business of energy in the United States.  So when it comes to any number of issues, so where does this midterm election leave us?

 

[00:01:49]

 

Kevin Book:  Well, midterm elections are different animals usually.  This one got sort of nationalized with the attention that was drawn from the Kavanaugh proceedings and also from the president’s deliberate attempt to nationalize the election.  But when you talk about elections and energy, usually, you’re talking about gasoline prices.  We weren’t talking about gasoline prices because the price had come down quite a lot.  Grant had retreated considerably and in fact energy as a source of jobs also sort of a national election topic and climate change, usually very much a wedge issue that parties can use to differentiate one another.  Again, not so much of a midterm issue.  One of the things that the election theme did reveal and this has implications for all policies, not just energy policy is that essentially expect more pugilism than policy coordination.  Both sides essentially won their respective chambers by fighting.  By coming out fist to cuff first and apologies if they were going to be any later.  So that is not an environment where you can craft energy policy.  The nature of energy policy at a federal level, the very fragmented US resource base, very difficult to get to law.  So it usually takes a catastrophic supply shock or an environmental disaster to catalyze cooperation and that assumes that you have folks who can get along.  Probably, wouldn’t look for big legislative solutions coming out of this one at a federal level.

 

[00:03:18]

 

Bill Loveless:  Right, right.  Yeah, you mentioned, I mean, when we look over the history of energy policy in the United States, it truly was response, when we had big decisions made, big deals enacted.  It wasn’t a response to calamities.  The 1970s certainly with the oil embargos, even early in this century, with the bills that were passed in 2005, 2007, they were response largely to concerns over the supply of oil and gas and whether or not, we were too dependent on foreign imports.  How things have changed in recent years.  So what are we left with then here on a national level on energy policy, you mentioned that the likelihood of fights.  There certainly will be increased oversight certainly in the what will be the democratic control house of representatives.  How is that likely to play out?

 

[00:04:01]

 

Kevin Book:  Well, starting that, I mean the oversight process sounds so benign when you put the right.  It’s like oh, you’re just watching, are you? Oversight can be very interventionist.

 

[00:04:14]

 

Bill Loveless:  Can I interrupt one minute there because you just reminded me.  I covered John Dingell for many years.  The host _____ [00:04:20] was anything but a light touch when it came to oversight.

 

[00:04:23]

 

Kevin Book:  That was precisely the historical examples which I was going to reference, that I was going to reference.  I mean, John Dingell was famous for his ability to turn oversight into a blunt object and the reason it can be so interventionist and not just sort of passive is that executive agencies have to prepare for the hearings.  On the hill, they have to answer follow-up questions.  All of that consumes time and time is scarce.  It takes a lot of time to do a lot of things and if you consumed, it would slow things down.  But there is more than that.  So the overseers, the authorizing committees, a lot of the chairman of those committees also sit on the appropriations subcommittees that oversee those agencies.  So if you’re an executive branch official and your first thought is I’ll blow this off.  I don’t have to do this.  Well, that could be a problem later.  It could be a problem at annual appropriations time.  But also during the year for what’s called reprogramming requests, when essentially agencies ask congress to repartition the funds that have been allocated, so they can do what they want to do.  It can be very hard for executive branch officials who shun oversight to get their work done and when they go for oversight, it can be very unpleasant, as you said John Dingell was famous for that.

 

[00:05:31]

 

Bill Loveless:  The Dingell Grams.

 

[00:05:33]

 

Kevin Book:  The snowflakes, I think was a bit of a term, right.  So, like they rained down on you.

 

[00:05:38]

 

Bill Loveless:  So Kevin where is this oversight likely to focus?

 

[00:05:38]

 

Kevin Book:  Well, the my key issues are going to be some of those wage issues that are the most politically useful for the democrats going into the 2020 presidential campaign.  So look for some of the deregulatory efforts focused on climate change and peripheral policies specifically the replacement of the clean power plan which was president Obama’s stationary sourced power sector regulation for greenhouse gases.  Now called the affordable clean energy rule.  And also the safe rule which is the fuel economy relay.  Those are probably two of the top focal areas for oversight.  But by far not the only ones.  Democrats are probably also going to focus on methane emissions from oil and gas wells.  Two areas where the Trump administration has been rewriting and effectively pairing back or in some cases really, really sort of reverting the regulatory structure to the pre-Obama era.  Offshore drilling to the extent that the new offshore drilling plant is going to come out expect some of the folks who’ve typically spoken out about it in the past.  Frank _____ [00:06:42], very likely to be the chairman of the house energy and commerce committee.  And also _____ [00:06:48] could probably speak out about that and…

 

[00:06:52]

 

Bill Loveless:  Likely to be the new chairman of the interior, house interior committee.

 

[00:06:56]

 

Kevin Book:  Yeah, and so, I mean, if you look at these, the ways in which natural resources and energy oversight tackle essentially the federal mineral estate.  You know the Trump administration’s pro-production agenda with large makes itself a target.  But it’s not the only thing.  The Trump administration has also been targeting two issues that are sort of meta regulatory.  One of them is the social cost of carbon.  They’ve implemented an interim social cost of carbon.  Should Nancy Pelosi reconstitute the house global warming and energy independence committee or whatever will be called.  That global warming focused panel might also start to ask questions of how the Trump administration can consider a domestic only social cost of carbon.  The effective of doing that reduces the cost benefit analysis cost line by that seven fold relative to the previous cost of carbon.  The second meta regulatory issue is NEPA, The National Environmental Policy Act and to the extent that the Trump administration proceeds with infrastructure citing reforms so that energy infrastructure can surmount some of the NEPA hurdles that have been presented in legal challenges that too looks like a right barrier.

 

[00:08:08]

 

Bill Loveless:  And of course the administration yields considerable clout when it comes to executive actions.  Certainly president Obama took advantage of those sorts of authorities when he was dissatisfied with the inaction taking place on Capitol Hill.  So what would be the practical effect of anything that democrats may attempt to do on these initiatives by the administration at EPA and other agencies?

 

[00:08:30]

 

Kevin Book:  Well, it seems that you know at some level, you could say, well they can’t change it because the administration is in charge and that’s true to some degree but it seems experientially, if you watch the number of times in official whether withering oversight hearing and the amount of time consumed in the follow-up constructed change of the priorities that official has.  The expectations that essentially circumscribes the ambition and probably slows the pace of the deregulatory agenda, the Trump administration has put out there.  So my key issues remain the focus.  Defending and finalizing and then defending things like the power sector and vehicle rules probably rised before and at this point, the administration can do what the Obama administration did and litter the terrain with chaff, essentially throw out rules to try to draw fires knowing that they will never probably finish them or they may just hunker down and really focus on a few core defenses.

 

[00:09:26]

 

Bill Loveless:  Right, I mean do you think the house democrats could effectively stop the administration from implementing a new carbon rule for power plants with the Environmental Protection Agency or rewrite the fuel efficiency standards?

 

[00:09:39]

 

Kevin Book:  No, to the extent that those are likely to be the things that administration prioritizes, probably not.  There is little opportunity for them to do so with the appropriations process which will be the mechanism whereby they could exert some leverage because the senate is still there in republican hands.  You know, there are still a couple of races yet to determine.  But the senate remains republican majority and it could potentially become significantly more so.

 

[00:09:39]

 

Bill Loveless:  Kevin, what would be the purpose of this reestablishment of the climate change special committee in the house of representatives as Pelosi has suggested, she would do? What would be the practical effect of having that committee around again a split congress?

 

[00:10:22]

 

Kevin Book:  Well, the extent to which that committee actually has authority is probably going to be limited like it was when it existed last time.  It was a special committee that didn’t really have pure statutory oversight over agencies.  But what it did do is it provided a forum for a topic that has been relegated to lesser stature in the Trump administration which is the climate debate.  The Trump administration has taken in various for different stances from the Obama administration but almost all of them distinguish by the fact that they don’t frame climate change in terms of climate change even when they address it.  It’s usually byproducts of economic choices for which there are kind of benefits.  That’s kind of the new framework.  So this would give as much as anything a political opportunity to the democrats, so they could have a place to rally more around their climate agenda and to hold hearings to essentially elevate the climate aspects of energy issues that otherwise have been de-emphasized thus far.

 

[00:11:23]

 

Bill Loveless:  All with an eye to the 2020 election.

 

[00:11:25]

 

Kevin Book:  I think it would be silly to think about this any other way.  Again, if you look at this past election, what did you learn? You learnt that fighting works, right.  As much as there maybe loose talk of cooperation, I wouldn’t count on for example carbon tax bill coming out of this congress.

 

[00:11:38]

 

Bill Loveless:  What about infrastructure? That’s one that is floated occasionally as an area where there could be some sort of bipartisan agreement?

 

[00:11:46]

 

Kevin Book:  Sure and the infrastructure debate becomes extremely thorny as soon as you get into the details.  How will we structure this infrastructure plan? Will it be for example, the democrats version which is to essentially have big federal spending, offsetting that spending possibly with changing existing tax preferences for a number of industries.  Unpopular with republicans would be the republicans plan which is to do a five to one leverage using loan guarantees and other federal financing mechanisms that aren’t explicit outlays on popular democrats.  So I think, it’s easy to talk about say they succeed, you still have a portion and problems like the net recipient state problem that you get just from the highway trust fund.  A lot of states wait, you know, we are paying in and not getting enough out.  Those kinds of fights suddenly, they attach to the infrastructure issue.  I think the final aspect of those that the infrastructure that keeps coming up and the president himself talks about it.  He isn’t talking usually about energy infrastructure.  He’s talking about the stuff he thinks of.  The stuff he’s used to build roads, buildings, bridges, you know the municipal infrastructure ex-energy.  The energy issue is really a citing issue.  So to the extent that this topic comes up, it incorporates the vastness of the issue as it was defined in the Obama administration.  The life cycle carbon emissions implications of infrastructure.  The distinction is non-trivial.  Right, if you count what comes out of a compressor, if you count a pipeline in terms of the directing missions from that pipeline, you get a very different number, smaller number than if you count all of the emissions associated with the fuel that flows through that pipeline.  In history, a door was just a door and whatever went in there didn’t count, went through it.  But now, counting everything that goes through the door is the new mnemonic.  Imagine trying to work that out in a divided congress.  I don’t think so.

 

[00:13:37]

 

Bill Loveless:  I don’t think so either.  Well, let’s turn to the states.  We saw several energy related referenda that were significant and closely watched.  Much money was spent to promote and defeat them.  One of course was the referendum in Washington state to establish a carbon fee.  It’s a second time they attempted that by referenda.  The first time it lost again.  What do you make of that?

 

[00:14:03]

 

Kevin Book:  Well, Washington state was an interesting litmus test in our view and the reason was that Washington state has a very green power mix.  It’s about a 72% hydropower generation mix and that means that the Washington state carbon intensity for power megawatt hour is about a 165 pounds of carbon dioxide.  Very, very low.  They also have relatively high disposable incomes on average compared to the nation and averages can be deceiving.  And energy expenditures as a share of those disposable incomes relatively low.  They are in the ten lowest in the U.S.  So when you have a low carbon intensity, low energy spending state, you essentially have, if it can’t happen here, where it can happen kind of question.  That conclusion is probably misleading because of course, there are states that price carbon.  But those decisions were taken by legislatures.  If there is a lesson for folks who want to organize around the referendum, it maybe that trying to get millions of people to buy into something is harder than getting a handful of corporate entities or for you know for the purposes of past carbon pricing mechanisms, legislatures, a room full of legislatures.  If you look at things like the Nevada renewable portfolio standard, you had industrial backing for it.  But in Washington state, you are asking for it, essentially to pay more for what they already have which is a clean energy state.  And I think the urgency of that may have been diminished somewhat by the political head wings coming out of the white house.  But also, it is just very difficult to get people to say yes to a tax.

 

[00:15:37]

 

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, even in a state as you say, this probably generally sympathetic to green issues.

 

[00:15:44]

 

Kevin Book:  Yeah, it’s a green leaning state and there were several green leaning states that at the start of this administration begin to initiate their own greening up.  Right, so it’s not, we call it a rollback rebound as the Trump administration was losing some of the regulation on climate, the state said, okay, we’ll take it from here and you can see those actions but those again, those actions really much more successful within the legislature, within these more concentrated political decision bodies than to the populist at large.

 

[00:16:12]

 

Bill Loveless:  Right.  And there have been these reports in the past few days of a number of democratic governors who have been elected and some have probably at least a couple of republican governors who might fit in this category who are interested in taking actions along these lines.  Something carbon fear, somehow addressing climate change.  Reuters is reporting, according to an item I saw on _____ [00:16:34] this morning that there is law makers and a number of legislatures across the country that are interested or intent to introduce carbon legislation.  Perhaps, simply in a much more thoughtful way of implementing a bill, working out compromise and deciding how it all plays out.

 

[00:16:54]

 

Kevin Book:  Well, the pivot to the people, that trend has worked for green energy in the past.  There have been a number of RPS initiatives that have been settled by referendum.  Climate change not so much.  Right, so the issue is a bigger one.  It’s not just one sector of your state’s economy and if you thought about what the $15 per metric ton would have done to Washington state on the electric power sector based on the carbon intensity.  We are talking about one-tenth of one cent per kilowatt hour to the residential customer generation cost only.  Right, that’s not necessarily life changing except for the most exigent, indigent families, right.  Everyone else doesn’t see that.  That’s lattes.  So if you look at some of the other states, that legislative mechanism is where they are going to look to make moves and again the issue is not an easy one.  If it were an easy one, we would probably have seen an explosion of carbon pricing.  But there is what appears to be a second wave of carbon pricing in the offing and so Washington states failure to pass by referendum does not necessarily mean that you aren’t going to get further rollback rebound action for the greening up at the state level.

 

[00:18:07]

 

Bill Loveless:  You mentioned the RPS renewable portfolio standard in Nevada, a bid to increase up to 50% of electricity output past failed in Arizona.  What do you make of the different response and each day.  Was it simply a matter of local politics and money spent or it was something else?

 

[00:18:27]

 

Kevin Book:  I mean, you could look at sort of similar examples, right.  The idea of raising gasoline taxes fails in Missouri.  The idea of rolling back gas tax increase fails in California and to some degree the reason, you can give is economic.  Like California drivers pay far less disposable income for their gasoline than Missouri drivers do.  And drive a lot less on average and so, you know, the extent to which they felt the pain of the increase was less and in Missouri the proposed increase would have hurt much more proportionally speaking.  When you compare Arizona and Nevada though the test case is even more interesting because you have two initiatives that were backed by the NextGen climate initiative.  Tom Steyer the hedge fund billionaire who has gone green and become a green activist, possibly a 2020 presidential candidate and you have this question of whether or not this mechanism is really contagious.  You know, when we look at energy policy at a state or for that matter any level, we ask, is there a contagion effect? Is there some way we can see this 50-50, you know, state royalties at the national level for oil and gas? Historically being one of the examples that comes up a lot.  We’re gonna see something that sweeps across the country.  And the answer in Arizona is no, no you’re not.  You have a different state, a different industrial base make up, different opposition by that industrial base and so, you have a different outcome.  You also have slightly different energy costs, slightly different energy costs profile and if you think about it, you know, what else happened in Nevada this past election? Well Dean Heller who was, you know is a green energy republican as one could have since he had a giga factory, he had to represent.  He leaned just a little bit too close to the Trump side of the continuum for some portion over the last two years and was punished for it.  So, you had a much less forgiving populist, much more green leaning voter base making the same decision, right.  They are at the same voters and in the same booth voting Dean Heller out as voting the RPS in.

 

[00:20:29]

 

Bill Loveless:  Right, just simply different circumstances in each state.  Well, over in Colorado, a referendum that would have restricted drilling, oil and gas drilling in the state also failed to defeat.  It was one that would have barred oil and gas drilling within 2500 feet of occupied buildings and so called vulnerable areas like parks and water sources.  What does this loss mean in that state? I find Colorado so fascinating because it’s an oil and gas producing state.  In the same time, it’s a big renewable energy state.  It’s got all of it going and then typically been able to strike some compromise in the regulations and all.  But in this case, this bill, this referendum failed.

 

[00:21:15]

 

Kevin Book:  Well Colorado has had a history of municipal fracking.  It succeeded before this were overcome by other challenges.  Court challenges, state legislative primacy over the municipal governments.  This sort of fight is interesting because Colorado isn’t like most states.  It’s really sort of emerging from an adolescence, a fast period of growth in its industry.  The degree to which oil and gas has risen as a share of GDP is rather impressive.  I mean, Colorado now gets almost 5% of GDP just from the oil and gas upstream directly.  Not counting indirect and implied induced, you know shares of GDP or supporting sectors.  So and where does that money go? It goes into schools and local governments.  So what would it have meant for a state that have seen so much growth in one sector and revenues from that sector to then essentially interject the growth of that sector.  That too had a sort of litmus test kind of feel to it.  Like, if it can happen here, well, then my God, maybe it can happen anywhere.  The difference though is that Colorado probably doesn’t resolve.  One of these things become sort of settled issues.  They move from interdiction to well, if you do generate a lot of revenue, how can the state get more? That’s the sort of thing you see in California now where oil and gas is a diminished share of GDP and when you see bowed initiatives, very often what they’re about is about how to get more out of the upstream or out of the refining sector for other initiatives and other programs in the state.  You see that in producing states like Oklahoma.  Legislatively, you see it in Texas.  When there is money coming out of the ground, after a while the folks who were against it, try to figure out how to get that money.  Not so clear, that’s gonna happen here in Colorado.  I suspect we’re headed for yet another moratorium style referendum in 2020 and the question, we have is well, we’ve just seen _____ [00:23:11] selected.  He was the sponsor of the 2014 setback initiative then 2000 feet, not 2500.  But every bit as decisively negative for the sector had it been enacted.  What will he do in 2020?

 

[00:23:24]

 

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, he didn’t take a position on.

 

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Kevin Book:  He did.

 

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Bill Loveless:  He imposed.

 

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Kevin Book:  He took his position.  He said, he was against it but he was running to represent the entire state in Colorado as opposed to representing one district to that state in Washington.  So he had more leeway to do it.  In 2020, he won’t be on cycle yet.  Right, I mean, technically, he will be thinking about his real action as any elected official must, the day they’re elected.  But I suspect he may have more latitude.  He’s already on record saying, he wants the power sector 100% renewable.  Right, he’s not, he’s not a fossil fuel advocate.  John Hicken was in many ways the best thing that could have happened to the oil and gas sector.  He was pro-oil and gas but also a democrat.  So in one hand, he could keep the industry in line.  He could shepherd them and say, well, you guys are going to have to show us and the industry would listen because of course they had a sympathetic voice who was embracing rather than opposing them.  But on the other hand, he also could keep democrats at bay and say look, you know, I’m in charge here and this is my party too.  Of course, it may be a different story.

 

[00:24:30]

 

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, it will be a close scrutiny over the next couple of years.

 

[00:24:32]

 

Kevin Book:  And the legislature is also getting more heavily democrat.  Again party doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing.  Democrats used to produce oil and taxes and in the future, democrats maybe producing oil and taxes.  So, you can’t just say, it’s a party thing.

 

[00:24:46]

 

Bill Loveless:  It makes me think, we’ve been talking about states and these referenda and governors and state legislatures and all these sorts of thing.  And then in the past couple of years as the Trump administration’s, you know backed off and opposed green policies implemented by its predecessor, you know, people have increasingly looked to the states to respond to climate change.  And we’ve seen that happen particularly in a state like California but there has been other ones that have acted aggressively as well.  It does this sort of a mixed results in these referenda as well as the election of these various officials in the state houses.  You know, say anything about the extent to which one can look to the states to be where the action is on climate change.  Now that the, you know the national administration, the Trump administration has really backed off on this issue.

 

[00:25:40]

 

Kevin Book:  Well, on climate change, I think that’s probably still the case.  Again, in what context do republicans embrace climate change? If they were to be some sort of federal carbon tax which is still the most talked about of climate initiatives in Washington right now.  It would have to get through gatekeepers from heavily carbon intensive states.  Right, Mitch McConnell majority leader from Kentucky unlikely to make it past Mitch, you know let alone Lisa Murkowski from Alaska.  If you go down the list and you say, well, you know, what is the nexus where there could be action on climate change? There still has to be a reason.  There has to be some upside for energy state to make that kind of choice.  There could be nexus in some point in the future federally or locally if we find ourselves in sort of an extension of the current trade conflict where overseas market access depends on the green attributes.  The government imprimatur of green attributes here in the U.S.  essentially in acting legislation federally or locally to impose a carbon fee could indemnify producers who want to export from tariffs in destination countries.  But mostly what you see are green leaning states and districts that are showing green values and part of that is that, you know, some states just don’t have a lot of energy production or a lot of fossil energy production.  And it makes them very easy candidates.  Some states like Kansas just got a democrat elected governor right.  So governor elected Kelly is a former state legislator.  Strong proponent of renewable power.  Kansas is 3% GDP just from oil and gas upstream, right.  It’s still a big oil and gas producing state by any metric.  Probably goes more local.  Probably is, you know, still continues to support renewable energy but Kansas is one of the couple of states that gets more than 30% of their power from wind.  You don’t have to do much to support it.  The wind is gonna blow and there is an economic reason, so it works.  But are they gonna go after the oil and gas industry when it’s a significant part? You can look at historical examples outside this country, Rachel Notley, right.  Sort of left of center, new democrat party in Alberta.  Was she against oil and gas industry? She wasn’t.  No, she was standing on it.  Right, so you don’t want to expect these sorts of things to really change the character of the producing states.  What you do expect are the greener states to get greener.

 

[00:28:06]

 

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.  Because again people look to the U.S.  commitment to the climate Paris accord under the Obama administration, to say well, we know, a long way to meeting that at the state level now than the local level as well as some big corporate commitments, even in the absence of federal action.  But I just wonder if that how practical that is.

 

[00:28:25]

 

Kevin Book:  May not even be legal.  Look, I think to some degree, sub-national action that is predicated on that state or municipality system of law seems utterly compatible with the 10th amendment, the federal system of government here in the U.S.  But when it comes time to sign treaties, I believe that is still the province of Washington.

 

[00:28:48]

 

Bill Loveless:  Right.  Regulation.  Regulators hold substantial clout especially in the absence of action by congress and nowhere is that more apparent than at the place like the federal energy regulatory commission which is in a state of flux of its own right now.  What should we look for at that commission?

 

[00:29:05]

 

Kevin Book:  Well, the conflict Frerk has actually been sort of a proxy conflict on climate in a lot of ways.  Infrastructure has become a target of climate activists, disconnect upstream sources from downstream markets, keeps it in the ground by definition.  And so every pipeline is a fight.  Right, every interstate pipeline is a fight anyway.  Anything Frerk is jurisdictionally in charge of and recently the democrats on the commission have taken a more activist view of a life cycle greenhouse gas emissions profile of that infrastructure.  Far from a settled issue subject to regulatory interpretation by the sitting administration under NEPA.  But the vulnerability also in court.  If Frerk it falls short of its obligation when writing an approval for a project, that’s a source of challenge and so they tend to be fairly thorough about it.  That continued opposition.  If you have three republican commissioners, a full slate then you have maybe some three, two decisions that nonetheless approve infrastructure.  We are stuck at two, two which, you know, as a possibility maybe not a great one.  Then there is, you know, there is always a problem.  I think in the end they will get the republican slate and keep things moving.  But the debate doesn’t end there.  And meanwhile the Frerk has taken on a number of other fairly big issues in natural gas policy statement being reopened and considering it provides a forum for further proxy conflict.  When we look at regulators though, the Frerk is what we would classify as an enabling regulator.  Essentially, there are regulators by statute.  Their job is to stop things or to protect things.  So the EPA, people don’t go to work at EPA, say, well how many wells can we get drilled today? I mean, there are some folks there who are for drilling wells but their job is public health and welfare.  The federal energy regulatory commission like [00:30:58] that’s Frerk environmental mandate is to get stuff done safely with conditions that ensure that the environmental standards are met.

 

[00:31:05]

 

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, right.  Yeah, that was sort I did at Frerk too, there was Frerk push back on, turn aside the effort by the administration to disable coal and nuclear plants on the basis of resiliency earlier this year.

 

[00:31:20]

 

Kevin Book:  Yeah, it’s a pending matter.  It’s not over.

 

[00:31:21]

 

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, yeah.  We’ll see that might be one that will bear some scrutiny.

 

[00:31:27]

 

Kevin Book:  Well, so when you start to think about the political aspects of this.  Like, it’s not all politics.  Some of this stuff really is real.  I feel bad sometimes talking to clients who do things outside of Washington and move huge amounts of money and metal around because they say, well, it’s not politics when we do this.  We are trying to supply the world with energy or we are trying to build something useful.  But the politics of ethanol for example, right.  If you think about the farm sector and the degree to which an E-15 policy is politically useful for the president or could be.  And then you look at things like the nuclear power sector, the magnitude of employment, the labor force, you’re talking about in ethanol is hundreds of thousands of farm jobs.  From labor jobs, directly that could vote.  The entirety of the nuclear power sector labor statistics is in the single digit, thousands, right, 6000 or so operators nationally.  So, it’s not as labor-intensive.  It’s a harder issue to get the political muster intervene and it doesn’t deliver as much punch if you do.

 

[00:32:25]

 

Bill Loveless:  Right and at the end, two things you just brought up there.  Politics matter and we can expect some punch over the next couple of years given what we’ve just seen.

 

[00:32:35]

 

Kevin Book:  Yeah, some punching bag, I think is the term.

 

[00:32:40]

 

Bill Loveless:  Kevin Book, thanks for joining us on the Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[00:32:42]

 

Kevin Book:  Bill, thanks so much for having me.

 

[00:32:45]

 

Bill Loveless:  And as always, thanks to you our listeners too.  You’ll find more information on the Columbia Energy Exchange and the Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy including a spot where you can send a message to Jason Bordoff and me on web at Energypolicy.Columbia.edu.  On social media, you can find us at Columbiauenergy.  For the Columbia Energy Exchange, I’m Bill Loveless.  We’ll be back again next week with another conversation.