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Policy Update 6/21/2010 - Obama pivots from spill to legislation


Policy Update 6/21/2010 - Obama pivots from spill to legislation

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Last week's legislative developments were framed by President Obama's prime time speech from the Oval office on Tuesday night. Obama discussed measures being taken to address the devastation in the Gulf, but also made the broader connection between the Gulf disaster and our nation's reliance on fossil fuels, and the need for new legislation that will encourage clean energy. His challenge to the Senate was not as specific as it could have been, but it was enough to keep pressure on the Senate to continue work on comprehensive energy and climate legislation.

Senate Timeline:

  • 6/23: President Obama invites bipartisan Senate delegation to the White House to discuss energy and climate legislation
  • 6/24: Senate Democrats hold second special caucus on energy-related legislation
  • 7/3-7/11: Independence Day recess
  • 7/12-8/6: Four weeks of floor time for Gulf response, climate and energy, and Elena Kagan's Supreme Court confirmation
  • 8/7-9/12: August Recess

President Obama and Administration Officials Push for Solutions to BP Spill, Climate, Energy

On Tuesday evening, President Obama used his first prime time Oval Office address to discuss the BP oil disaster and the need for comprehensive clean energy legislation. Obama did not call on the "Senate" by name, or demand that the "comprehensive" bill include a cap on carbon.

For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked -- not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor. The consequences of our inaction are now in plain we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude. We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash America’s innovation and seize control of our own destiny.

Here's the full transcript and video of the address.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel thinks a Senate fight on energy and climate will help generate turnout from young people in the mid-term elections. In an interview with Congress Daily, Emanuel said that "at the margins” more young people could be inspired by a legislative debate that shows Democrats committing to moving toward alternative energy and Republicans resisting the change.

It’s a way to get them engaged in the coming election . . . they see it as being about the future, and less about energy policy.

Last week Emanuel told The New York Times that he is expecting to pluck ideas from each of the Senate proposals.

There's enough in each, [for] a serious and comprehensive energy bill. And you can do it this year.

Phil Schiliro, White House Congressional Liaison, has been pushing the Senate to adhere to a tight schedule for passing climate and energy legislation. According to Schiliro, the Administration's current game plan is to pass a bill before the August recess, and then finalize the legislation in conference with the House of Representatives after the November elections during the "lame-duck" session. Senate Minority Leader McConnell claimed that it was not right to connect the negative impacts of our fossil fuel addiction like the BP Gulf Disaster to the need to comprehensively address climate change and our dependence on dirty fuels, like oil and coal.

Now we see it once again, seizing on this crisis in the gulf to try to do something that has absolutely nothing to do with getting the oil leak stopped and the oil cleaned up.

1Sky responded to the President's Oval Office address by calling for more leadership from the Senate. 1Sky is partnering with other groups to hold "Hands Across the Sand" events on June 26. These events are designed show solidarity with the Gulf coast while demonstrating strong support for legislation that will deliver a clean energy future.

The Senate Discusses Legislative Response to Gulf Crisis, Energy, and Climate

The 59-member Democratic Caucus met for a special meeting on Thursday to discuss three climate and energy bills currently on the table: Senator Kerry (D-MA), Senator Bingaman (D-NM), and Senator Cantwell (D-WA) all presented their bills, in hopes of generating conversations on next steps. The meeting ran behind schedule, and Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) was forced to postpone an in-depth question-and-answer session until a tentatively-scheduled meeting next Thursday. While meetings on energy continue, many moderate Democrats are afraid to speak out without any Republicans on board. In particular, Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) resisted overtures from the White House during a 1-on-1 meeting with President Obama to discuss climate and energy legislation, denouncing comprehensive legislation as a "National Energy Tax". This Wednesday, Obama is expected to discuss Senate energy and climate bill with about a dozen Democrats and Republicans at the White House, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). In a surprising response to Obama's speech last week, oil-friendly Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) put out a statement saying "there is a better way" than further dependence on oil, and that "the transition to clean renewable energy is one our country has to begin immediately." This marks a dramatic shift in rhetoric from one of the oil industry's closest allies in the Senate. Full statement (quotes from last paragraph).

Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ), Whitehouse (D-RI), Merkley (D-OR), and others Call for Stronger Legislation

Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Whitehouse (D-RI) have been pushing back on efforts to pass an "energy-only" bill.

It’s hard to imagine that I would support it,”said Senator Lautenberg

Whitehouse said “it would be very challenging to vote for an energy bill that did not take a significant step to limit carbon emissions. . . . Everything else is just purfling around the edges,". Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) and Senator Jean Shaheen (D-NH) joined Lautenberg and Whitehouse to speak out in favor of a comprehensive bill over an energy-only bill. Last week Senate Merkley (D-OR) released his own energy plan aimed at tackling our oil dependence and has caught the eye of leaders in the Senate. Merkley's Plan to End our Reliance on Overseas Oil would eliminate all oil imports from foreign nations by 2030 and "ramp up production and use of electric vehicles, increase travel options and improve infrastructure, develop alternative transportation fuels and reduce the use of oil to heat buildings." The freshman Senator is drawing attention for his ideas from Majority Leader Reid and used a speech at the Center for American Progress to highlight his ideas on cutting U.S. oil demand by millions of barrels a day. According to Greg Sargent from the Washington Post newer senators like Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Al Franken (D-MN), Tom Udall (D-NM), Merkley and others have been "trying to nudge the Senate in a more liberal or reformist direction," and this bill gives them a chance to push for more ambitious legislation.

There's a lot of new energy in those two classes, and they recognize that this is the moment," Merkley says. "This bill is our opportunity and we need to seize it. We can't be shy about doing so.

Rockefeller's "Dirty Air Act" Remains a Threat Despite Victory Over Murkowski

After the Democratic Caucus meeting yesterday, Senator Rockefeller (D-WV) released a statement

The Senate should be focusing on the immediate issues before us – to suspend EPA action on greenhouse gas emissions, push clean coal technologies, and tackle the Gulf oil spill. We need to set aside controversial and more far-reaching climate proposals and work right now on energy legislation that protects our economy, protects West Virginia and improves our environment.

Majority Leader Reid has promised a vote before the end of the year on Rockefeller's bill. Last week 1Sky presented 5 "Oily Bird Awards" to Senators that voted "yes" on Senator Murkowski's "Dirty Air Act," as a sarcastic reward for supporting legislation that would increase our dependence on oil. 1Sky Massachusetts Regional Coordinator Geneva Boyer visited D.C. to deliver Senator Scott Brown's "Oily Bird Award" on Capitol Hill in person. Here's a video capturing the moment.

BP Oil Disaster Update

In a meeting with President Obama on Wednesday, BP CEO Tony Hayward agreed to pay $20 billion into an escrow account to pay back victims of the BP oil disaster including people from the fishing, tourism, and oil drilling industry. BP agreed to pay $5 billion this year, and $1.25 billion per quarter for 3 years. President Obama said 90% of the leaking oil will be captured in the coming weeks and days without including many details on how BP and the Coast Guard plans to capture the oil. Meanwhile, BP continues to drill two relief wells with a completion date set in August - these wells are the best chance to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf. BP CEO Tony Hayward testified before Congress on Thursday saying he is "deeply sorry" while members of Congress ripped into the embattled company for negligence and ignoring warning signs in the lead up to the disaster. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), told the BP executive that in his committee's review of 30,000 items, there was "not a single e-mail or document that you paid even the slightest attention to the dangers at this well." In a shocking move, Ranking Member Joe Barton (R-TX) looked BP CEO Tony Hayward in the eye and said "I apologize," in reference to the scrutiny BP is receiving from the public and the Obama Administration. Congressmen in support of energy reform have been capitalizing on his comments, building stronger support for action on energy, and forcing members to distance themselves from Big Oil. Gulf Coast Republicans like Joe Bonner (R-AL) and Jeff Miller (R-FL) are calling for Barton's resignation.

Prepared by Jason Kowalski and Gabe Elsner from the 1Sky Policy team. Please direct questions or comments to
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