The American Gas Association (AGA) expects to take a prominent seat as climate change legislation is debated next year. The association is preparing a “full court press” for the discussions, according to incoming Chairman Bob Skaggs.

“We’ve been active in the discussion and in the work on cap-and-trade, and we’ll continue to be constructive,” Skaggs, who is CEO of NiSource Inc., said during a roundtable luncheon with reporters in Washington, DC, Friday. “We’ll continue to try to inject common sense and a practical approach when folks on the Hill continue to consider cap-and-trade. The team is preparing to launch a full court press as the Senate takes up greenhouse gas [GHG] legislation and cap-and-trade. We want to be on the field, again injecting common sense and a practical approach as that legislation takes shape.”

Climate change legislation cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in early November, while the House passed a climate change measure in late June (see related story; NGI, Nov. 9, June 29). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said floor debate on energy and climate change legislation will begin in the Senate “sometime in the spring” (see NGI, Nov. 23).

The AGA will promote the natural gas model as an alternative to a new climate change-regulating bureaucracy, Skaggs said.

“We believe that we’ve had a model that’s been working and working extraordinarily well for not only a decade, but decade upon decade. We have the model for what can work when you talk about climate change, energy efficiency and conservation…I don’t believe when we talk about climate change we need to construct an immense, elaborate architecture to promote conservation, energy efficiency and the like because we’ve done that without that huge architecture,” Skaggs said. “We don’t need those sorts of mandates. We ought to go with what works.”

The AGA will be pushing for “a more programmatic approach,” including the series of codes for buildings, standards for appliances and conservation and energy efficiency programs at the state level that have already produced significant benefits, he said.

The AGA has urged that any climate change legislation should take into account “the monumental strides” U.S. natural gas consumers have made during the past 40 years to reduce GHG emissions and increase energy efficiency (see NGI, Oct. 5). If a cap-and-trade approach is implemented, AGA said, Congress “should maintain or increase the four-year delay for natural gas utilities coming under that program; increase their allowance allocation from 9% to 12%; extend their allocated allowance phase-out from 2030 to 2040; significantly modify or delete the provision that stipulates one-third of the value of allowances allocated to natural gas utilities should go to energy efficiency programs, as this approach will not reduce emissions and will only raise costs; treat all renewable energy sources equally, whether they are used to generate electricity or supplement natural gas supplies; and keep ‘carbon footprint labeling’ in the legislation, which will help consumers make informed carbon-reduction decisions.”

In addition to continuing its involvement in the climate change debate, AGA in 2010 will also focus on the dividend tax issue and reauthorization of pipeline safety legislation in 2010 (see related story).

AGA’s core message in the coming year is a simple one, Skaggs said: “Gas is good.”

“I think gas is as well positioned as it ever has been. I think there’s more cohesion in the industry than there ever has been, and I think gas meets the need of this country and our customers more than it ever has,” he said.

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