A Visit to the Capitol Markets (Part 4—Final Installment)

4/3/09Follow @jmatheson

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paints a broad swath across a variety of domains including food processing, chemicals, steel, etc., and which represents a massive opportunity for energy and resource efficiency gains. Not immediately as sexy as some of the other arenas, but one that I think will get increased attention as we really dig more deeply into the carbon equation and look to uncover more “Nega-watts”.

We then grabbed lunch while enjoying a high speed, super intriguing briefing by Gerry Waldron, who serves as the Staff Director and Chief Counsel for the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming (which is the select committee that Congressman Markey chairs, and which is at the center of the climate change and Renewable Energy Standard, or RES, bill previously discussed). Gerry’s talk was like a graduate version of that old School House Rock cartoon, I’m Just a Bill, with real life players, drama, and very real consequences.

Gerry described the history of climate change regulation and the last two years of evolution that brought us to this point where this Bill is now a real deal working its way through subcommittee to committee and eventually to a full House vote, and then….well, then comes the Senate. As Gerry explained, in the House, work gets done in committees; in the Senate, it gets done on the Floor. The goal is for a dense set of hearings after Easter recess, with the aim of filling in the missing gaps (which are significant, not the least of which is allocation) and having it leave the subcommittee by the end of April and committee by Memorial Day. An admittedly hugely ambitious agenda, but these guys are working it…there are issues from both Democrats and Republicans that need to get worked out, but given the partisan dynamics, they do not expect to get much support from Republicans regardless of how much they morph it.

Gerry was very thoughtful in describing how combining the Climate Change Bill with the RES and efficiency legislation provided both a more complete, practical solution for the market, and also more maneuvering room politically. He also described the relationship and sequencing of the climate change legislation efforts with President Obama’s planned trip to the Copenhagen Climate Council in December. The high-level notion is that the President would like to go to Copenhagen with significant progress made on the legislation so he can show that the U.S. is moving aggressively, but not a completed law as otherwise there would be no room for maneuvering on either piece. Makes good sense once you think about it, but a lot of moving parts to be put in place for the President to be sitting in a good perch come December.

All in all, a very informative and fascinating lesson in high-level lawmaking and the myriad dimensions of this important piece of legislation, again highlighting that we have some very capable folks in DC working these issues, but that there are many sides to every issue and the political “sausage making process” is necessarily a messy one.

Overall, I think the trip was well worth taking; it showed New England’s leadership in the arena, got CEOs and investors closer to the legislators, opened up channels for follow-on dialogue and impact, and allowed time for the Community leaders to spend time together and expand their networks. There is obviously so much more depth and breadth to these issues than I was able to provide here, and thus I plan to ask my fellow travelers to add their thoughts and perspectives on the trip. Perhaps we can expand this discussion to follow the progress of some of these important regulatory and financial initiatives that I have breezed over, but which will be critical to defining the playing field for so many businesses (and our lives) over the coming decades. And this is just the energy & climate change vector; the same level of effort, process, and tension exists around healthcare reform, which is just starting to crank up but which will have the same impact, and require the same involvement from New England’s Innovation Community.

[Editor's note: This is the fourth and final installment of a travelogue written by venture capitalist Jim Matheson, who is in the nation's capitol as part of a DC Fly In organized by the New England Clean Energy Council. You can find links to his other three articles in the Related Posts section of this piece.]

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