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ENERGY POLICY: Middle East unrest justifies expanded domestic production -- Upton

Energy & Environment Daily
Katie Howell, E&E reporter

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton called today for expanded domestic production of conventional energy resources in the face of turmoil in the Middle East, but he left the door open slightly for passage of a "clean energy standard" (CES).

In past sessions of Congress, the 14-term Michigan Republican has supported measures requiring electric utilities to draw a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources. But now, he is expressing concerns about the broader CES requested by President Obama that would allow energy sources beyond wind, solar and other renewables.

At issue for Upton is the fate of nuclear energy under such a CES. Obama's State of the Union speech specifically mentioned nuclear energy for inclusion in his CES, but Upton cautioned today the time frame of the mandate would determine nuclear's fate.

"The problem is because it takes so long to get nuclear online, if we went to 20 percent [CES goal] by 2020, chances are we wouldn't see nuclear as part of that component," he said at a Washington forum sponsored by Bloomberg Government and the Abraham Group LLC. "So there are real questions that have to be asked."

Obama called for an 80 percent standard by 2035, but draft language floated last Congress would have used the shorter time frame. Upton said he would not rule out the possibility of considering a measure with a longer time frame.

"We may," he said. "I'm sure we'll look at a host of things."

But Upton's primary energy concern now revolves around unrest in the Middle East and its impact on oil supplies.

"As I look at the scene, we do have to improve not only our economy and nation's economy, but we need simply more supply," Upton said.

Sweeping Republican gains in last November's election, he said, "put a death nail in cap and trade, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't embark on a national energy policy, but I think the emphasis will be on supply -- what can we do that will have some downward pressure on prices?"

He added, "Our efforts in our committee are going to be to try to see what we can do to increase our production of energy knowing full well it is a national security issue," he added.

Upton's comments are not new. Republicans have long supported an increase in domestic traditional energy production. But the timing is key as hopes of passing a CES this year are fading. Last week, top aides for Upton's panel and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee expressed doubt such a measure could pass either chamber (E&ENews PM).

"I think the headline out of Chairman Upton's remarks is that it's going to be status quo energy policies," said Daniel Weiss, a fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

But Upton -- and other Republicans -- have long said they favor an "all of the above" energy policy.

"No one wants to pick winners and losers as we struggle to create more power, so as a consequence everything has to be on the table," Upton said. Still, he added, "We shouldn't turn our back on what's available here and that's the agenda that we're going to pursue as we see our committee unfold."