James Carville Talks Energy

James Carville, the outspoken Democratic political strategist and regular commentator on CNN, was in Houston Wednesday to speak at Microsoft’s Global Energy Forum. After a quip-filled keynote address, which also featured his wife and renowned Republican strategist Mary Matalin, Carville took a few minutes to talk with the Chronicle about the politics of energy.
Q: Most people associate you with the political world. How did you wind up at an oil and gas industry conference in Houston?
A: Microsoft wanted good speakers. They had George Will. They had President Bush. It’s the intersection between politics and energy. Policy is going to affect the energy business a lot.
Q: Your wife talked about the need for a clear U.S. energy policy that gives the industry better guidance on where to invest its resources in the future. But, given all the current trouble with the economy, how realistic is it that we’re going to see any movement on energy policy anytime soon?
A: As it is, they’re probably focused somewhere else now. That happens. You know, you’re losing half a million jobs a month. It’s hard when you’ve got all those people in the combat zone. There are bigger priorities at the moment.
Q: You’re hearing some in the oil and gas industry talk more about the importance of conservation, given the world’s rising energy demands and the challenges posed by assessing new supply. But you don’t hear much from Washington about cutting back, a topic that is not popular with many Americans.
A: There’s a surprising thing here, and most people don’t realize this. Houston and Texas . . . when you talk to people in the oil business, they talk about natural gas, they talk about hydroelectric. I haven’t heard anybody here at this conference saying all of our future is going to be petroleum. Everybody talks about wind, hydroelectric, natural gas. These are the kinds of discussions people are having. There’s an old saying that the best time to plant an oak tree was 25 years ago, the second best time is today. You know, just because we didn’t do it 25 years ago doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it today. I am always taken aback that biggest proponents of alternative energy tend to be people that you think of as being in the petroleum business.
Q: President Bush was perceived by many as being a friend to Big Oil, partly because he came up in the business. How do you think President Obama’s relationship with the industry is going to be?
A: First of all, both Bush and Cheney came out of the oil business. Obama’s not very well known yet. The words I hear here are “calm, doesn’t get excitable.’ Oil people, by their nature, have to take a sort of long view of things. This area, maybe more than most, is not as shook up as most about the ups and downs of the larger cycle because they live with this more than any other. But there wasn’t a lot of anti-Obama in the conversations I’ve had. I think people are taking more of a wait-and-see attitude.