The Skywriter

DC Hill Update 2/22: Senate returns after snow days and recess


DC Hill Update 2/22: Senate returns after snow days and recess

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Members of Congress were on recess last week. 1Sky organizers all over the country showed up at in-state events to ask members of Congress to support strong climate legislation and defend the Clean Air Act. In the meantime, the Obama administration announced funding for new nuclear reactors, attacks on the Clean Air Act continue, and health care reform got some new momentum with several senators pushing to pass a public option through a process that requires only 51 votes. This week, the Senate is also poised to vote on a jobs bill.

1. Climate Bill Update

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is working on a new energy bill, a draft of which was revealed last week. This new bill is a more comprehensive, but weaker version of the "ACELA" bill passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee last year. Graham's bill includes a weak "Clean Energy Standard" (CES) that defines nuclear power and carbon-capture-and-storage (CCS) coal power as "clean." Like the other Senate energy bill, analysis suggests that it will not result in renewable energy deployment beyond business as usual. It remains unclear whether or not Graham's bill will be incorporated into the comprehensive climate and energy bill that he is working on with Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

As always, a fired-up Senator John Kerry reassured the press last week that, "fanatics, naysayers, and science deniers" will not get in the way of action on climate change.

Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) announced last week that he will not run for re-election this year. Bayh, a key swing vote on climate, might be more likely to support comprehensive climate and energy legislation now that he's not running for re-election, but it's unlikely his seat will go to a more climate-friendly senator in the 2010 election.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), a climate champion on the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee, was diagnosed last week with stomach cancer. He will undergo chemotherapy treatments for the next several months, and is expected to recover completely.

2. Job(s) Bill(s) Coming Up This Week

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to move forward today with a $15 billion jobs bill, although it is not clear that the measure has enough votes to pass. Some analysts are suggesting that Reid's strategy is to try and force "no" votes from Republicans on a paired down and relatively uncontroversial bill with "jobs" in the title. Many Democrats are upset that the Reid bill does not go far enough.

Reid's bill does not contain any climate-related measures beyond an extension of the Highway Trust Fund, which includes some funding for public transit. Important clean energy initiatives like the "Home Star" energy efficiency program are expected in subsequent jobs bills.

3. Murkowski "Dirty Air Act" Resolution Coming Up in March

While some 1Sky organizers got reassurance in their advocacy over the recess that their senators will not support efforts to gut the Clean Air Act, Senator Lisa Murkowski's (R-AK) still plans to move forward with her disapproval resolution next month. Please help us stop the Dirty Air Act! Visit USCAN’s Dirty Air Act campaign page for resources developed by many organizations nationally as part of this campaign.

Industry lobbyists, a handful of representatives and three states (Virginia, Texas, and Alabama) have filed law suits challenging the endangerment finding, adding to Sen. Murkowski's attack on science and public health. Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS) is trying to rally fellow governors in opposition to the Clean Air Act.

The National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club are continuing to target Dirty Air Act supporters like Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) with radio ads.

4. Grassroots Climate Actions During the Senate Recess

Grassroots 1Sky organizers and volunteers made a big splash on the ground this week:

5. Obama Administration Announces Loan Guarantees for New Nuclear Plants

Last week the Obama Administration announced an $8.3 billion loan guarantee for the construction of two new nuclear reactors at a plant in Georgia. Climate advocates generally agree that new nuclear plants are a risky investment, especially if loan guarantees could instead be used to support energy efficiency, or renewable energy sources like wind and solar. E&E notes that this gesture, although not part of a deal, represents the administration's commitment to working with pro-nuclear moderate Republicans climate and energy legislation.

The most recent energy policy analysis completed by the Congressional Budget Office suggests that the risk of default on nuclear loan guarantees like these is very high – greater than 50%.

6. Health Care Gains New Momentum

Last week, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) led a group of 20 senators in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calling for passage of the "public option" via budget reconciliation, which only requires 51 votes to pass.

On Friday, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), a member of Senate leadership, decided to sign on, and Reid also said publicly that he would support the effort, making passage of the public option seem like a possibility. The White House will hold a televised bipartisan summit on health care this Thursday (February 25).

It is not clear how this renewed momentum for health care reform will affect the comprehensive climate and energy bill.

7. International Update

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) announced last week that he will step down in July 2010 after four years of planning and overseeing international climate negotiations, which culminated in the underwhelming Copenhagen Accord this past December. 102 countries support the Copenhagen Accord, with most of them formally "associating" with it. You can find more details and track progress here.

8. President Obama Speaks out on Climate Science

President Obama explains climate science at a town hall in Nevada (link):

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

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