PORTLAND — A Republican economist who gave advice to Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush and Sen. John McCain urged Maine business leaders Monday to get behind federal climate change legislation.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin spoke with about 20 business leaders in a private meeting arranged by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Clean Air-Cool Planet, a nonprofit advocacy group.

“What we need to do is harness private enterprise to address these problems,” Holtz-Eakin said during an interview before the meeting.
Holtz-Eakin, a former top adviser, ran the Congressional Budget Office from 2003 to 2005 and was an adviser to McCain during his 2008 campaign against Barack Obama.

Holtz-Eakin has been making visits around the country to talk about climate change. Maine was on his list of stops in part because of the key role the state’s congressional delegation could play in any federal legislation.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is a co-sponsor of one pending climate change bill, and support from both Collins and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is considered critical for any bill to succeed in the Senate.

Holtz-Eakin praised Collins’ bill as the simplest and best idea yet proposed in Washington.

“It has not gotten nearly as much attention (as other bills), but I think it has the best chance of being a starting point. It’s a real dark horse,” he said.

The bill, called the CLEAR Act, would require energy producers to buy carbon emission allowances at auctions and would refund 75 percent of the revenue to the public. The other 25 percent would go toward clean energy research and development.

Holtz-Eakin’s visit also comes as resistance to climate change legislation appears to be growing within the state’s Republican Party.

“I have plenty of faith that Sen. Snowe and Sen. Collins will do what’s right, but there’s a lot of us that want to go slow,” said Charlie Webster, chairman of the party in Maine. “We don’t want to put our business in this country and put our workers and rate payers at a huge disadvantage.”

The Maine GOP platform adopted this month in Portland calls for the defeat of carbon cap-and-trade legislation and an investigation of “the global warming myth.”

“That pains me,” Holtz-Eakin said.

Arguments about the science of climate change ignore the need to reduce dependence on foreign oil for the sake of the economy and national security, he said. His advice to business leaders was to get educated and involved in shaping the federal legislation so it doesn’t add unnecessary costs.

The chamber of commerce has not taken a position on any federal proposals, but agrees that businesses must be involved in the debate, said Chris Jackson, a lobbyist for the group.

“We’re just trying to educate our members, because this is coming and folks need to focus on it,” Jackson said. “It’s hard to imagine a business or family in Maine not impacted by energy regulation.”

Jamie Py, president of the Maine Energy Marketers Association, which represents oil dealers, sat in on the meeting Monday. Py said Holtz-Eakin made a strong case that legislation is inevitable and that the businesses community should get engaged in the discussion.
“If we’re going to do it, let’s make sure we’re still competitive with  the rest of the world,” he said.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]