Utilities seeking financing for environmental upgrades should look to the markets for debt and equity, rather than trying to securitize those costs.
A senator’s crusade limits America’s options.
At the end of May, President Obama nominated one of the industry’s own to a top post in his cabinet. He picked John Bryson, former CEO of Edison International, to become Commerce secretary. Bryson is an interesting choice, bringing business acumen and environmental awareness to the Commerce Department. Aside from being Edison’s CEO, Bryson served on the boards of Boeing, Walt Disney and solar project developer BrightSource Energy. Additionally, back in 1970, he co-founded the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Bryson left NRDC in the mid-’70s, but the organization went on to become one of the country’s most important environmental advocacy groups.
Of course, the business of Washington is politics, and the majority party in Congress rarely gives the other party’s president anything without getting something in return. So Republican lawmakers said they wouldn’t ratify Bryson’s nomination until the president advanced certain free-trade agreements that they favor—a negotiating tactic that seemed largely unrelated to Bryson himself. However, in mid-July Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) put his own “hold” on Bryson’s nomination, in effect vowing to filibuster it, no matter what happens with the trade agreements.
Inhofe is the Senate’s most outspoken critic of environmental regulation; the senator has called mainstream climate-change theory “an article of religious faith,” and the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated.” Last year he sought to strip the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of its regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act .
As such, Inhofe objects to Bryson on the basis of his environmental positions. “The fact that he’s being nominated to be secretary of Commerce is so ironic, because here’s a guy who wants to kill commerce,” Inhofe said at a press conference on July 12. As evidence, Inhofe cites Bryson’s involvement with the NRDC, which he calls “a radical … left-wing environmentalist organization, which in the name of global warming, seeks to increase drastically the price of electricity and gasoline across America.”
But Inhofe’s attack seems to be aimed as much at Pres. Obama—in the run-up to next year’s election—as it is at Bryson. With the country worried about an anemic economy and a looming global financial crisis, Inhofe paints Obama’s selection as a black-and-white choice between jobs and the environment. “You don’t hear President Obama talking about global warming lately,” he said. “He understands that his green agenda is not popular, but his choice of John Bryson … clearly indicates that he has not given up trying to implement it… But with 9.2-percent unemployment, there is no question that the president’s green agenda has failed miserably.”
Inhofe’s attempt to block Bryson might be mostly about election politics. But it adds to the chaos that frustrates clean coal development and constrains America’s energy options.
In some respects, Inhofe’s attack against Bryson seems peculiar and poorly targeted. After all, Bryson won’t be leading EPA or DOE, but Commerce, which is best known for handling international trade policy and patent applications. Granted, Commerce also includes the National Oceanic