GCEF keynoter: America’s future will be forged by steel, not government

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The Gulf Coast Energy Forum’s keynote speaker Chuck Schmitt hit a familiar note within the energy industry as attendees finished lunch: the sector is a well-oiled machine calibrated for innovation, and government rules and regulations are drags not only on oil and gas production, but on the nation’s economy as a whole.

Schmitt – president of the American branch of Nordic steel producers SSAB and chairman of the American Iron & Steel Institute – told a crowd of around 50 industry interests that federal regulations designed to protect the environment are misguided, if well-intentioned.

(“Wishes and good intentions don’t keep the lights on,” quipped Consumer Energy Alliance rep Brydon Ross following the keynote.)

Among “the brilliant ideas that come down from Washington” in Schmitt’s parlance is the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, a bugaboo decried by almost every speaker at energy industry conference.

“The rules, in my view, give foreign manufacturers a competitive advantage by increasing U.S. electricity costs,” said Schmitt. “We’re concerned with the EPA’s proposed ozone standard could shut down facilities and force manufacturers like ours to cancel expansion plans.”

“Even the EPA itself said that its ozone regulation alone could be the most expensive regulation in American history.”

Forcing industry to comply with byzantine federal laws, said Schmitt, interferes with the self-interested sustainability practices that occur naturally in an industry that aims to be at the center of American life for generations and is not inherently short-sighted as regulators presume.

Steel – the most recycled material in the world – is especially sustainable because it is 98 percent recyclable, Schmitt said.

Instead of tweaking domestic energy producers, the government ought to focus on staying competitive with growing emerging markets.

“Congress and the [Obama] administration should craft a national energy policy that promotes the development of all domestic energy sources,” said Schmitt. “One of the consequences of international energy competition is includes the net environmental impact that results when advanced domestic industries like ours are displaced by less efficient, less responsible plants.”

Schmitt concluded by highlighting his interest group’s ongoing advocacy efforts.

“During the most recent congressional district work period, AISI activated our grassroots networks,” Schmitt said, referring to the recess which began this month. “Steelworkers across the country asked their members of Congress to oppose EPA’s plans to unilaterally regulate greenhouse gas emissions for existing and new power plants.”

Schmitt was hopeful Congress would listen, and the crowd listening to him in turn gave a collective nod.

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