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DC Hill Update 2/1: Obama Calls for A "Comprehensive Energy and Climate Bill"

1
Feb

DC Hill Update 2/1: Obama Calls for A "Comprehensive Energy and Climate Bill"

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Climate legislation and clean energy jobs remain on the agenda of the Obama Administration and Congress. Despite recent attacks on the Clean Air Act, and defensive posturing from moderate members of Congress, momentum remains for passing legislation that will create clean energy jobs and begin to tackle the climate crisis.

1. President Obama's State of the Union Address

President Obama mentioned "clean energy" at least 10 times in his speech, asserting that creating clean energy jobs remains a crucial part of the administration's strategy to combat devastating unemployment and restore American leadership in clean energy technology.

While the President mentioned clean energy primarily in the context of job creation and American competitiveness, he also used the phrase "climate" twice and called on the Senate to pass a bill:

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means… passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.

Unfortunately, Obama also mentioned nuclear power, more oil drilling, and clean coal as if they are "clean" energy solutions to our economic and climate crises:

And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies.

1Sky Campaign Director Gillian Caldwell responded to the President's address by demanding that Congress focus on strong climate and clean energy legislation and fend off attacks on the Clean Air Act in the House and Senate:

We reject massive new investments in clean coal, offshore drilling and nuclear power, but we stand with President Obama and his clean energy initiatives – and against the corrupt status quo that only wants more of the same.

1Sky activists are gearing up to amplify the President's call for a comprehensive climate and energy bill during the President's Day Senate recess. Organizers across the country are planning to show up at as many in-state events as possible to tell senators that comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation must be at the top of their agenda this spring. Click here for more details and to sign up, then download our President's Day Action Guide (PDF).

2. Senate Climate Bill

Developments this past week suggest that many senators and administration officials are still working to craft a bipartisan bill that can pass this year.

Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) continue to express optimism that they will find a way to put a cap on carbon this year. The three recently held meetings with Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), authors of the CLEAR Act with a cap and dividend approach, as well as with other senators to get their input on how best to craft a successful bill.

Senior White House climate advisor Carol Browner assured climate advocates this week that the administration is committed to getting a bill passed this year but didn't give a time frame.

Graham gave the climate community a bit of a scare last Wednesday when the New York Times quoted him saying that, "Realistically, the cap-and-trade bills in the House and the Senate are going nowhere." In response to this article, Graham released a clarifying statement reasserting his commitment to "continue working with Senators Kerry, Lieberman and my Senate colleagues to create a new pathway forward that focuses on a more robust energy security package and a more business-friendly climate legislation."

3. Murkowski Moves Forward with "Dirty Air Act" Resolution; Reps. Start Similar Initiative in the House

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is moving forward with her attack on the Clean Air Act, and will likely seek a vote on her "disapproval resolution" (subs. req'd) sometime in March.

A handful of "Clean Air" Democrats spoke out decisively against Murkowski's resolution after she introduced it last week. This recent 1Sky blog post summarizes many of the best points they made.

A number of senators have recently said that they are still considering supporting the resolution (subs. req'd), but have not yet decided. These include Jim Webb (D-VA), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). It is crucial that we continue demanding that these senators vote 'NO' on the Murkowski resolution. Go here to call your senators and urge them to vote 'NO' on Murkowski’s amendment.

Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), who co-sponsored Murkowski's resolution, was dishonored this week with being one of the first lawmakers named to the 2010 "Dirty Dozen" list of the least-environmentally friendly candidates released each year by the League of Conservation Voters.

In the House, Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) has introduced a bipartisan bill that similarly seeks to gut the Clean Air Act and overturn the EPA's endangerment finding. Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS) is introducing a "disapproval resolution" similar to Murkowski's and the two are working together to protect big polluters by attacking the Clean Air Act.

USCAN is featuring a compilation of Murkowski/Moran/Pomeroy letters, action alerts and talking points here.

4. Worrisome "Coal Caucus" forms in the House

A bipartisan group of House members, lead by Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Jason Altmire (D-PA), Tim Holden (D-PA), Denny Rehberg (R-MT), John Salazar (D-CO), and John Shimkus (R-IL) are forming a new caucus that seeks to, “give coal-states a forum to highlight their priorities and present a unified voice."

Since its formation last Monday, the caucus has grown to 43 members, including 17 democrats.

5. Senate Jobs Bill(s)

The Senate is now turning its focus to passing at least two new jobs bills, one of which should be introduced sometime next week.

At least one of the bills will likely include tax credits for families and businesses that invest in energy efficiency (subs. req'd), as well as funding for new public transportation and other clean energy infrastructure projects (subs. req'd).

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) held a hearing last week about the opportunities for job creation in the solar energy sector.

6. Fate of Health Care Still Up In the Air

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) remains determined to pass a health care bill, most recently suggesting that it may be possible to pass various aspects of the Senate bill through the House separately, yet it remains unclear exactly what procedures will move the process forward.

Health care was not President Obama's top-line agenda item in his State of the Union address, and was actually mentioned after climate change. The President reiterated that he hopes to see the process move forward. "Do not walk away from reform," he said. Along with the jobs bill, a resolution of the health care fight will open up more space for movement of a climate bill in the Senate.

7. High Speed Rail Receives Recovery Act Funding

President Obama and Vice President Biden traveled to Tampa, FL on Thursday to announce an $8 billion investment for a number of historic high-speed rail projects, which will include 13 rail corridors passing through 31 states. These new rail projects are expected to create thousands of jobs and save travelers money that otherwise would be spent on gas and airfare.

8. Status of the "Copenhagen Accord"

Top U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern announced on Thursday that the United States will submit its pledged target of 17% reductions below 2005 levels by 2020 to the UN ahead of schedule.

Canadian officials are currently reconsidering Canada's proposed reduction target of 20% by 2020, saying that their plans are dependent on whether or not the U.S. puts a cap on carbon emissions.

So far, a total of 31 countries have either submitted targets or suggested that they intend to submit targets by the January 31 deadline, indicating that they will officially "associate" with the treaty. The US Climate Action Network is keeping track of all countries' recent commitments here. If more countries sign on, it will appear that non-binding accord has passed its first test and that countries still stand by the commitments they made in December. It also means all eyes will be on the ability of the U.S. to meet its commitments by passing domestic climate legislation.

Prepared by Jason Kowalski and Julie Erickson from 1Sky’s policy team. Please direct questions or comments to jason@1sky.org.

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