Jon Huntsman faced tough questions about global warming and energy policy during his November 1, 2011 meeting with the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript editorial board in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
A complete video of the meeting has been posted to YouTube, with the energy portion starting at 21:10:
Transcript of Jon Huntsman's comments on energy:
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript: I was hoping you’d give us a preview of your energy plan. I know that you’re gonna unveil it today, but we don’t go to press until Thursday anyways, so we’re not going to scoop anybody.
Obviously, it’s a wildly controversial issues, especially now, but I think there are a lot of disagreements about what the government’s role is in terms of incentivizing a renewable economy, if that’s even a priority.
So I know that you’ve said that you do believe that global warming is occurring and that you have variously supported and not supported cap and trade programs. So I was wondering what your platform is on cap and trade and if you could articulate for us exactly what you the role of government is in spurring a shift to a green energy economy.
Jon Huntsman: The role of government should, number one, be bring up through reviewing regulations that make it very difficult, as I found as Governor, with respect to natural gas out West. Bring up opportunities to get more of what we have in great abundance in this country.
Number two, I believe it ought to be the role of government to break up the oil monopoly as it relates to transportation. So whether it’s light vehicles or heavy vehicles on diesel, you don’t have much of an option. I think that’s a legitimate…
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript: Can you expand on that just a little bit?
Jon Huntsman: Yeah, I think that, you know, as we had with federal communications – with communication networks in the ‘70’s we had a monopoly. And there was an FTC review and there was a review by the judiciary committee within the Senate to break that up. And today, we all benefit on that communications side by having a whole lot more.
I think the same thing needs to happen on oil.
I think the FTC and the Judiciary Committee in the Senate need to look at the distribution network for oil and say, “Somebody has a huge advantage here and until such time as we look at breaking it up, we’re not going to be able to allow alternative fuels and other options to become viable.”
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript: So by distribution networks, do you mean gas stations, the companies that transport oil from the production station to those has stations? At which point in the distribution network do you that there’s…
Jon Huntsman: Well, that is one part of the distribution network. For example, if you want to fire your car on natural gas, there is little in the way of distribution capabilities.
We don’t have a smart grid, for example, for electric cars. So if you want to look to the future and say, “If you want anything but the hydrocarbon called gasoline and diesel,” you’re pretty much screwed, because there is nothing available.
I found this as Governor. As Governor, I ran my car on natural gas. I didn’t think you could do that until I met some entrepreneur in the northern part of the state who said, “I want to convert your state Suburban to natural gas. I paid him out of pocket to do it.
I drove around the state with two big tanks in the back of my car for years. And, you know, with the idea that if you didn’t fill up at two or three stations where you had access, you’d find yourself in the middle of the desert stranded.
So I went to the public utilities and said, “We’re going to create a super natural gas highway in this state that’ll link one end to the other. We’re really going to give people an option. You either want to be ahead of this debate, or you’re gone be behind, but I’m asking you to help.”
So they stepped up and they decided they’d make an investment in traditional service stations along the way. This is like Colorado to Nevada, that stretch of land. And they decided to step and actually make investments so you could actually fill up from natural gas along that corridor.
I think were one of the first states to actually do anything like that.
So it’s achievable, but you’re going to have to take on the oil monopoly and you can only do that through an FTC review, with the Senate Judiciary Committee taking a look at it.
But I want to open up options for natural gas, for alternative fuels, for electric cars, in which case if you want to recharge in your garage, we need a smart grid. You can’t do it today.
So all of this supposes that over the next ten years or so we’re gonna get really smart about alternatives beyond just oil, but I think that’s a legitimate role for the government to be playing.
And then on the whole basic research side, I think between health sciences and the National Institutes of Health and what they do around cancer, for example, that’s an important investment. And I think our energy future under ARPA-E, which is the, you know, the analogous organization to DARPA at the Defense Department is also important, because therein we’re going to figure out how we can begin drawing from the sun and how we can begin drawing more from the wind.
I mean, ultimately we’ll be there, but we’re not there today. And you can’t force technologies into the marketplace before they’re ready. We’re learning that with each passing day. The subsidies, you know, before they’re ready to be deployed into the market place, you know, they just don’t work.
But through basic research sponsored by the government, I think you begin to develop the technology sooner than you otherwise might, which then would create more of a level playing field for individual companies that will then adopt…
On solar approaches, on wind energy, we’re just not there today. We’ll be there at some point.
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript: So you think that the role of government is in sponsoring research, not necessarily for incentivizing individual projects.
Jon Huntsman: You know it isn’t picking winners. It isn’t an industrial policy like we saw in Japan in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. That doesn’t work.
And we’re finding that with Solyndra for example. I think there are going to be a lot more Solyndra’s, on both the Republican side and the Democrat side. People just finding money and throwing it at technologies - nascent technologies that aren’t ready for primetime. And we’ll find that they’re not ready for primetime, they can’t compete with things like natural gas. But, you know, given 20 or 30 years they’d probably be viable.
So where we are today is we’ve gotta build a bridge to tomorrow. You know, 30 years or whatever that point is we’ll be drawing from the sun and the wind. I have no doubt about that. Technologies will catch up to where we need to be.
We’ll innovate our way forward, but how do you build a bridge from today to tomorrow. I think that will in large part be driven by freeing up materials that we need to use for transportation, like natural gas, creating a smart grid, converting our fleets more and more to where they can be flexible fuel fleets.
That’s the only way you can get from today to tomorrow in an affordable, competitive fashion.
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript: I understand that you have a three-part plan. That it’s reviewing regulations that you find to be too restrictive on the natural gas industry, and reviewing the distribution network for energy, and sponsoring research on renewable energy technology.
I’m wondering specifically with the restrictive regulations, there is a lot of controversy about this because, you know, people put that forward often as, you know, regulations are too restrictive. And the easy counter is, “Well those regulations are needed to protect the environment, to protect the health of the populations around where development and resource exploitation is taking place.”
Could you be more specific about the regulations that you find to be too restrictive and how you would unencumber industry without risking the health and safety of the environment and citizens?
Jon Huntsman: Yeah. Again, I’m all for protecting health. I’m all for a sound environment. I mean, that’s what we’re passing on to the next generation.
But when you have things like NEPA, that has been around since the 1960’s, started by Republicans by the way.
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript: What is it?
Jon Huntsman: The National Energy Policy Act, which governs how you use land and the steps and the requirements and the red tape needed to actually access things like natural gas. It’s terribly prohibitive to the point where you might as well throw up your hands in frustration before you even begin. It’s hardly competitive given what other countries in the world are doing in terms of preparing to fuel their future economy.
That’s gotta be dealt with, I mean, the prerequisites for NEPA for example.
On the EPA side, just things like the restriction that was just imposed on the large vehicle fleet, which is, you know, the 20 percent consumer of the hydrocarbon called oil. The thought you could transition that fleet towards natural gas, President Obama basically through the EPA made that impossible by putting mileage restrictions or mileage criteria on the big rig fleet, the 18 wheeler fleet, making it impossible for them to convert to natural gas. Yet, that would be the first transportation opportunity that you would logically have.
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript: Mileage restrictions meant you have to build engines that get at least this much per mile, right? To maximize our fuel use as a country, you can’t have engines that suck up gasoline. So how does that prevent development of natural gas? I don’t understand.
Jon Huntsman: Well, if you look at the restrictions that were just put on the 18 wheeler fleet, it makes it impossible for them to convert to natural gas.
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript: Why?
Jon Huntsman: You’ll have to ask the White House.
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript: No, why does it make it impossible for them to…
Jon Huntsman: It sets new criteria that are impossible to meet unless you use gasoline, unless you use diesel.
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript: …is natural gas less mileage efficient?
Jon Huntsman: There may be a problem with that in the beginning, but uh…
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript: Okay, I was having a hard time understanding that. Everyone just assumes that natural gas must be more efficient, therefore you burn less of it per gallon…
Jon Huntsman: It’s because engines are built, as I found in my Suburban, for gas. So, you know, you make the tweaks and whatever catalytic converter or whatever, you can basically achieve the same efficiencies.
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript: … with a lot of unintended consequences from the sound of it. That’s interesting, I wouldn’t have thought that.