Clean Energy And The Fossil Fuel We Rely On

West Virginia lawmakers say the debate over renewable energy needs to take into account the energy sector we rely on today, including oil, natural gas and coal. Guest host Tony Cox speaks with Reporter Manuel Quinones, of Capitol News Connection. Quinones reports West Virginia lawmakers are determined to protect the local fossil fuel industries in their State.

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TONY COX, host:

Renewable energy versus fossil fuels. It's an ongoing debate that's been heightened with the spill in the Gulf. And while the Obama administration is touting clean energy along with Ann Costello, there is pushback from parts of the nation that rely on traditional energy sources for their livelihoods.

Manuel Quinones reports for Capitol News Connection and recently focused on West Virginia's vast energy supplies as they relate to clean energy. His piece included this from Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller.

Senator JAY ROCKEFELLER (Democrat, West Virginia): I know people laugh at coal. We don't. You can't run this country without coal.

COX: Manuel Quinones of Capitol News Connection, welcome.

Mr. MANUEL QUINONES (Reporter, Capitol News Connection): Thank you. Thank you for having me.

COX: Let's begin with this. What do you hear, especially from those people representing the energy business and jobs in West Virginia regarding President Obama's desire to move away from oil and other nonrenewable energy sources?

Mr. QUINONES: They say it's all fine and good for him to be advocating this in the sense that eventually we do want to move from these resources. But for now, and for the - for much time to come, we are going to be depending on coal. We're going to be depending on natural gas. We're going to be depending on drilling in oil.

And many folks in Congress say it is a little disingenuous for the president to tell the American public that we're going to be able to move away from fossil fuels and to make it seem that that's going to happen anytime soon. And not only are they saying that we're going to depend on these resources for some time to come, but they also say that they're important resources that can be made clean.

For example, they tout clean coal and clean natural gas. And of course it depends what state they're from, as to what energy resources they're touting.

COX: Well, to that point we have a clip, as a matter of fact, from West Virginia Congressman Shelley Moore Capito, who says: We need to promote clean energy while at the same time, to your point, protect existing industries.

Representative SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (Republican, West Virginia): No, no. I cannot favor that. Until you show me a way that the hurt is going to be spread equally across this country and that there will be special consideration for those areas more deeply affected.

COX: Again, that was Congressman Shelley Moore Capito talking about protecting the coal industry. Congresswoman, we should say, as a matter of fact. Here's my question, Manuel, are other states who depend on the coal and gas industry similarly vocal about the need to support the fossil fuel industry?

Mr. QUINONES: Oh, definitely. I spoke with Democrat Dan Boren of Oklahoma last week and he's touting plans on legislation to promote clean natural gas. So basically what these lawmakers are saying is that at the same time that we can do tax credits, that we can promote wind and solar and all these renewable energies, that at the same time we should merge that with promoting what we already have. And real quick, what the congresswoman was alluding to when she said no, no, no is caps on carbon emissions.

There are many pieces of legislation in Congress especially pushed by the liberal members, the ones who want strong climate change legislation, pieces of legislation that have caps on carbon emissions. And what the conservative members, including some conservative Democrats object to, are those caps. They say it's going to be too costly and unnecessary to promote clean energy.

COX: Well, that raises a question that you hear from certain members of congress and from other parts of the country with regard to clean air, whether or not environmental degradation is a concern in places like West Virginia. Is it?

Mr. QUINONES: Well, they say it is and that's something they take issue with. They say, what we're advocating for when we talk about coal and natural gas is not against the environment. We want the environment - we want to protect the environment. We care about the environment. At the same time, they're worried about or they say they're worried about workers and the economy, especially now that we're in tough economic times, they don't want to do anything that can harm that sector of the economy, especially when they say that that sector of the economy can be made cleaner through investments.

So don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, don't throw out all the coal when we can have clean coal. Of course opponents of this idea say clean coal's expensive and not as reliable as these proponents make it out to be. But they say it is. And America just needs to invest in it, along with investing in wind and solar, for example.

COX: Well, is that not, as we bring this to a close, a conundrum for the Obama administration in terms of trying to do two things that are seemingly at odds simultaneously.

Mr. QUINONES: You hit it in the nail. Basically there's many pieces of legislation, many different points of view and lawmakers have not been able to coalesce behind one certain piece of legislation or one certain point of view.

More importantly, Democrats have not been able to coalesce. Democrats are very much divided on this issue. And right now the whole effort is in jeopardy. Of course if you talk to John Kerry he'll tell you it's not that it's going to pass.

COX: Will this drive people to the polls and make them more active politically in this, a very important election year?

Mr. QUINONES: What a lot of Democrats are scared of is that it may actually alienate some people. They're worried about the economy. Folks are still worried about unemployment. There's jobs bills being discussed on Capitol Hill right now. And a lot of lawmakers think that getting into something that could be called cap and trade or include increased cost for the American people is not going to be good at the polls. Theyre - many are running away from this.

COX: Manuel Quinones is a reporter for Capitol News Connection. Manuel, thank you.

Mr. QUINONES: Thank you very much.

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