Will Congress Learn from the TXU Deal?

Will Congress Learn from the TXU Deal?

The buyout and greening of the energy giant should show Washington leaders that the solutions to a cleaner energy future and a safer climate are one in the same, argues the NRDC's Eben Burnham-Snyder.

While all eyes were on the Oscars last Sunday, a dramatic new script was unfolding down in Texas: Gordon-Gecko-meets-Al-Gore; "Wall Street" crossed with "An Inconvenient Truth." Corporate raiders with a heart of green. A reckless energy company that got a second chance and learned to change its ways.

As any good story does, this one has a moral. Question is: will it be lost on Congress?

The story, of course, is the unprecedented set of commitments by a group of investors responsible for the proposed record-setting $44 billion buyout of energy giant TXU, which until the previous day had been rushing to build a sprawling fleet of old-style coal fired power plants in time to beat the prospect of new global warming emission limits.

Under an agreement in which NRDC played a pivotal role, the new buyers decided to reverse course in favor of a more balanced business vision encompassing energy efficiency, renewable energy, and a concrete commitment to cut global warming emissions. They also promised to withdraw permit applications for eight of the eleven highly controversial coal plants TXU proposed to build in Texas.

The reason these buyers nixed the plants is because they recognized it would be financial folly to attempt to build profits on an energy strategy that didn't take global warming - and global warming solutions - into account.

There is plenty of other business action aside from the record-breaking TXU buyout pointing towards a new energy/global warming zeitgeist. Part of the deal with the TXU buyers is that they will join General Electric, Duke Power, DuPont and several other leading U.S. businesses, along with NRDC, in the US CAP partnership that is pushing for market-based global warming emission limits to match the investments they are making in clean energy solutions.

The question here in Washington is: has Congress heeded this new business push to integrate energy and global warming policy?

Earlier this week, leaders of the major Senate and House energy committees met with the President. There were no indications that the same link the President mentioned in his State of the Union speech--energy and global warming--was considered in this meeting.

But comments from House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer this week point to a growing realization that global warming and energy policies must be considered in concert to be effective. And more Washington leaders are realizing that the solutions to a cleaner energy future and a safer climate are one in the same.

On Wednesday, Mr. Dingell's commented that "A system to regulate fuel economy, without considering the nature of the fuel or the level of greenhouse gasses it emits, may be inadequate." This statement points to a clear example of this need for policy integration: liquid coal powering our nation's transportation sector.

Liquid coal fuel is being pushed by the fossil fuel industry as a solution to oil dependence. Yet this fuel is so packed with pollution that it can make a hybrid pollute like a Hummer, putting Cinderella's pumpkin-to-chariot morph to shame. With an integrated energy and climate legislative strategy, Congress can avoid pitfalls like this one, and move more towards an energy policy that embraces stronger fuel performance standards and ensures that the fuels we should be looking to use - like cellulosic ethanol - will reduce global warming emissions.

Because, after all, $3 gasoline and increased global warming devastation aren't date movies. For many Americans, they're horror flicks.

Eben Burnham-Snyder is the senior communications associate for climate and energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council.