As expected, energy production and policy took up a big chunk of the discussion at the Manufacturing Summit in Dalton Thursday. But the various speakers took different approaches to their common topic.
First up was Rep. Tom Graves, who represents much of North Georgia in Congress and focused on the proliferation of regulations handcuffing businesses in a number of ways. Graves spoke of energy as one of the many areas affected by what he reported as 43 new major regulations that the federal government imposed in 2010 alone, at an estimated cost to businesses of $26.5 billion.
“Our rapidly expanding government has brought a pox of regulations upon businesses across this country,” Graves said.
“To the promoters of more government, bigger government…we must stand together and say, ‘no.’ When there are those that say free markets don’t work or capitalism is false, we must stand together as entrepreneurs and push ahead.”
Graves was followed by T. Boone Pickens, the oil and gas magnate who is promoting a national energy plan that he developed and which relies heavily on natural gas. He describes his main motivation as reducing our reliance on foreign oil, which he pegged at 13 million barrels a day out of the 20 million barrels we use each day. Of that, he said we import 5 million barrels from members of OPEC.
Pickens favors a plan to convert America’s 18-wheelers, all 8 million of them, to run on natural gas — which, he said, could cut our OPEC imports in half. But he signaled an openness to other energy sources as well, so long as they meet one requirement.
“Anything American, I’m for,” Pickens said. “I’m not even against ethanol. It’s an ugly baby, but its our baby. It’s better than OPEC, I can tell you that.”
A different tack was taken by Tom Fanning, CEO of Southern Company. Fanning focused on “everything but oil” — basically meaning sources of electricity generation. He advocated an “all arrows in the quiver” approach but spent a good bit of time talking about why the U.S. should not abandon nuclear power in spite of the disaster in Japan. New technology, he said, addresses the biggest problem with the earthquake- and tsunami-struck reactors in Japan by using gravity to pour water on fuel rods in case of a shutdown rather than requiring an external power source. (That includes the two new reactors Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, is building at Plant Vogtle.)
Fanning also spent much time decrying the EPA’s new Utility MACT regulation, which the agency is trying to rush through with only a 60-day public comment period and a three-year timeline for implementation.
“It is our [company's] view that as a result of this rule by EPA, we may have to shut down almost half of the nation’s coal-generated [power] resources, putting us into potentially a reliability crisis,” Fanning said. “And when we consider adding new environmental control equipment or replacing it with other forms of generaton, we’re looking at potential price increases across the United States of maybe 20 percent.”
In the Southeast alone, Fanning said, the new regulation could eliminate up to 35,000 jobs. The cost to businesses, he said, was likely to be much higher than the EPA’s estimate of a $10.9 billion a year.
– By Kyle Wingfield