The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday it is optimistic about the stimulus package currently in the works yet warned that the group may butt heads with Democratic leaders over issues like climate change regulation and energy policy.
"The chamber is very encouraged by the direction the President-elect is taking with his recovery package," Chamber CEO Tom Donohue said Wednesday, as he presented his organization's 2009 State of American Business report and its proposals for economic recovery. "Even so, we will not hesitate to vigorously fight wrong-headed proposals when necessary."
The chamber remains optimistic it can find a workable approach to energy solutions with Congress, said Bruce Josten, the agency's executive vice president of government affairs, even though it does not see eye to eye with the new leadership on the issue.
"Technology's the ultimate solution here," Josten said. "We continue to pass laws promoting the development and acceleration of new technologies, and then we don't fund it and walk away from it."
He cited the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which included incentives for the development of 72 different energy-related technologies. Two-thirds of those have remained unfunded, he said, with the final third underfunded.
The chamber leaders said they expect to see more incentives for energy efficiency in the stimulus package, by way of infrastructure funding.
"We're going to make a down payment going forward, but we're not going to get everything done in one stimulus package," Josten said.
Lawmakers should consider all means of securing affordable, efficient energy, especially given the current economic climate, the chamber said. The United States is the "Saudi Arabia of coal," its report says, and the country should continue to invest in clean coal technologies.
The chamber also recommends Congress facilitate the immediate expansion of nuclear energy.
"It will give us clean power at low prices for a lifetime," Donohue said. "We're going to beat the drum on it."
Donohue argued that decisions about energy regulation should not be left up to independent regulatory agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency. Instead, it should be in the hands of Congress, which can view energy and climate change issues in the context of the larger economy.
"A system run by regulators from the top down that could stop any economic recovery in its tracks is not something this country needs," Donohue said. "It is our belief anything we do about CO2 or to keep people in their jobs ought to be global in nature or use U.S. innovation and technology."
The chamber will not back any particular approach to emissions regulations until it has had a chance to sit down with all the relevant players, he said.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the new chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is "going to be a challenge," Donohue said.
Waxman advocated for stronger carbon emissions regulations than Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), whom he replaced as head of the committee this year.
The chamber is also encouraging Congress to provide more assistance to the broadband industry, starting by funding the Broadband Data Improvement Act, which facilitates the collection of data regarding broadband deployment and establishes a grant program to promote Internet usage. The chamber also supports providing the private sector with incentives like tax credits to build out broadband infrastructure.