On energy and the primaries

Shell Oil CEO John Hofmeister had some interesting comments on the presidential candidates when he spoke at yesterday’s “Challenges and Opportunities in a Carbon-Constrained World” conference here. (He’ll also be speaking at Houston’s Presidential Summit downtown today, where Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the lone presidential candidate making an appearance).

Shell’s Hofmeister says the energy debate has been tepid. ( Melissa Phillip / Chronicle)

Much of his speech was a repeat of stuff he’s said in summarizing the results of Shell’s 50-city “town hall meeting” efforts in the last year (here’s a Detroit News story on what he says were some of the key findings, as well as Shell’s 12-point plan for U.S. energy policy).
But Hofmeister said he has briefed all of the presidential candidates on his 12 points except Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. He has met with Obama but didn’t’ have time to get to the 12 points, and said he was hoping to see McCain later Wednesday when he arrived in Houston for campaign events today.
When asked at Wednesday’s event how knowledgeable the presidential candidates seemed on the energy industry Hofmeister noted all have made “energy speeches” but he didn’t assess the strength of any of them, only saying, “we must beware of superficial promises of easy solutions.”
He did note that McCain and Clinton seem educated on the industry, particularly McCain, but he hasn’t been able to personally assess Obama’s knowledge.
Another attendee at the conference Wednesday was Rick Lazio… yes, that Rick Lazio. He is now a with JPMorgan Chase and focuses on environmental initiatives. (JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup joined with a number of power companies and environmental groups last year to create a set of “carbon principals” to help evaluate the risk and alternatives to coal power projects.)
Lazio noted how nearly 10 years ago he helped introduce the first carbon dioxide cap and trade legislation in the U.S., but it was an effort far ahead of its time.
“It was as easy to get momentum for the bill then as it was to run against the sitting first lady,” Lazio said.
British and Canadian (and one French) accents were well-represented among the speakers Wednesday, a reflection of how Europe is farther along in developing CO2 credit trading markets – indeed they’ve spent the past four years or so operating such markets.
“I’m glad these conversations are happening in Houston,” said one participant to another during a break. “It’s hard to believe.”