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Policy Update 6/28/2010 - Inspirational caucus meeting re-energizes Senate debate


Policy Update 6/28/2010 - Inspirational caucus meeting re-energizes Senate debate

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After an "inspiring" Democratic caucus meeting last Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) affirmed that the Senate is ready to move forward with a climate and energy bill this summer. Senate leadership has discussed plans to draft a bill over recess, but it's not clear what form the final legislation will take. President Obama is meeting with a bipartisan group of senators this week to try and incite collaboration on the new bill, as oil continues to pour into the Gulf.

Senate Timeline

  • 6/29: President Obama meets with a bipartisan group of senators to discuss energy and climate 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

The Senate pushes forward on energy and climate legislation

With five weeks left before August recess, the Senate is working to build a climate and energy package that can attract the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. An "inspiring" caucus meeting last Thursday left Senate Democrats excited to pick a fight over clean energy. Senators described Thursday's meeting as "powerful," and "thrilling," however their emotionally-charged discussion did not produce a defined legislative proposal. Senators did not mention whether or not the new bill will include a price on carbon, but some members did insist that the bill will have a "polluter-pays" framework. Senator Kerry (D-MA) said "that's the principle that's going to guide us and that was uniform within the caucus."

Reid plans to build a climate and energy bill around the Gulf coast response package being crafted by Senators Bingaman (D-NM) and Murkowski (R-AK). The Democratic leadership may also select a group of 10 senators, as suggested by Senator Schumer (D-NY), to pull together a piece of compromise legislation. The "Gang of 10" would likely serve as de facto whips to ensure unity among the Democratic caucus when the bill goes to the floor. A similar strategy was used to pass the health care bill. Democrats hope that the politics of the floor fight will play out more like Wall Street reform than like health care, with moderate Republicans "forced" into breaking ranks with their own leadership in fear of being associated with Big Oil.

Last week, President Obama postponed a meeting with a group of senators meant to produce a bipartisan support for energy and climate legislation. The President was forced to reschedule after recalling General Stanley McChrystal from his job in Afghanistan due to comments published in Rolling Stone.

This past weekend 1Sky worked alongside dozens of other groups to organize over 700 'Hands Across the Sand' events. All over the country, people called on their members of Congress to say 'no' to offshore drilling, and 'yes' to a clean energy economy.

Senate considering a utility-only carbon cap

A utility-only carbon cap is gaining considerable traction in the Senate as leadership searches for a path to 60 votes on climate and energy legislation. A power plant-only approach would cover about 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, whereas an economy-wide cap would cover about 85% of our emissions. Even with a scaled back cap on carbon the politics surrounding utility-only legislation remain more or less the same, with the vast majority of Republicans unwilling to support even a watered-down bill. Last week Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) said that a utility-only cap would be acceptable to her. She was, however, not optimistic that even a limited cap could pass. Other than Snowe, it's unclear what additional support could be mustered by scaling down a cap on carbon, especially when progressives like Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Senator Cardin (D-MD) are less than enthusiastic about the proposal. Leaders within the Democratic party are welcoming the scaled down approach. Senator Lieberman (I-CT) said a utility sector price on carbon could be "a significant step forward." White House Chief of Staff , Rahm Emanuel said "utilities-only will also be welcomed," in reference to the meeting scheduled with Senate Republicans this Tuesday. Analysis from David Roberts at Grist suggests that a scaled-down utility-only bill, would be most effective if paired with strong clean energy provisions, like Senator Merkley's (D-OR) oil dependence bill.

President Obama to court moderate Republicans

Many Senators are expecting President Obama to provide the force needed to push the final clean energy package through the Senate. Politico calls them "reluctant dance partners:" both want to see legislation passed, but neither one wants to take the blame for failure. Reid pulled together a caucus meeting last Thursday, and Obama has now rescheduled his meeting with Senate Republicans for today, Tuesday 6/29. Dirk Forrister, who ran President Clinton's climate change task force, emphasizes the White House's role:

“We’re at a point where Obama and his team have to lead aggressively, or it won’t come together. Simple as that. Reid needs hands-on White House engagement in order to rally the votes.”

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called a meeting with the GOP Senators invited to the White House meeting on energy and climate legislation. Coming out of the meeting in McConnell's office, Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), a critical swing vote on climate legislation, called the upcoming White House meeting a "political prop" and said the president is trying "to change the topic" away from the oil spill and toward climate legislation. (Subscription)

"We've got a crisis on our hands, We've got to correct the crisis first."

BP Oil Spill Update

Judge Martin Feldman from U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana overturned the Obama Administration's ban on deep-water offshore drilling last Tuesday. On Thursday, he blocked a request from the Obama administration to delay his ruling until the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans can review it. Judge Feldman's most recent financial reports from 2008 show holdings in at least eight companies in the oil industry, including Transocean, Ltd. which owned the Deepwater Horizon rig. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said "The President continues to believe that ... continuing to drill at these depths without knowing what happened does not make any sense." He also noted that the Department of Justice would immediately appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar told the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee that "It is important that this moratorium stay in place until we can assure that deep-water drilling can be done in a safe way." The Department of Interior may issue a new, more limited offshore drilling moratorium while the Administration appeals the decision.

On Wednesday, an accident involving an underwater robot forced BP to remove the cap, which allowed oil to flow into the ocean unabated. Engineers were eventually able to repair and replace the cap later Wednesday night. The first tropical storm of the hurricane season is highlighting the threat of rough weather on clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical Storm Alex may force BP to evacuate the ships capturing oil through the containment cap if seas become too rough. Non-essential drilling crews have been evacuated from oil platforms throughout the Gulf as a precautionary measure. With the millions of gallons of dispersant being sprayed into the ocean, leaders in Washington, D.C. are beginning to question the health and environmental effects of the chemical Corexit. In response to a reporter, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said "we believe that the dispersant that’s being used at the amount that it’s being used at now is safe, yes." However, EPA Administrator Jackson remarked on a conference call:

"We don't have the science that talks about what happens when you use dispersants in the deep sea. We don't have the science that talks about when you use, you know, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of gallons of dispersants on a single response."

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

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