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1Sky Policy Update 7/26/2010 - Senate Pulls the Plug on Climate


1Sky Policy Update 7/26/2010 - Senate Pulls the Plug on Climate

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Last Thursday, Senate Leaders announced that they would not be taking up climate legislation to the floor before August. This move makes consideration of a cap on carbon unlikely in this Congress. The Senate will instead move forward before the August recess with a more narrowly focused bill aimed mostly at responding directly to the oil spill. 1Sky’s angry press statement reaction is here.

Senate Time line:

  • Week of 7/26: Floor time for a narrowly-focussed oil spill response bill, including some energy components
  • 8/7-9/12: August Recess

Climate Action Delayed in the Senate

Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) decided to cut major climate and energy components out of the oil spill response bill to be considered this week. This decision was a major blow to climate legislation, delaying action until at least this fall.

Reid said, "It's easy to count to 60. I could do it by the time I was in eighth grade. My point is this, we know where we are. We know we don't have the votes."

The Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) and other key energy components, such as an electric vehicle provision, were cut from the bill. News that the Senate will once again delay action on climate has been very disheartening to climate advocates. Senate Democrats are blaming the Republicans for the bill's failure, but arguably splintering within the Democratic caucus and a lack of leadership from the Obama Administration are also to blame. President Barack Obama and his Administration are being criticized heavily for not seizing the opportunity to pivot harder from oil spill to climate bill. Joe Romm at Climate Progress wrote a hard-hitting piece entitled 'The Failed Presidency of Barack Obama' in which he said that,

"Fundamentally, Rahm and Axelrod simply don't get global warming. They bought the nonsensical argument based on bad polling analysis that there was no good way to talk about it . . ."

Many are still baffled that even in the wake of one of the largest environmental disasters in US history, we cannot move the ball forward on climate legislation. Ashley Henry, a board member of Climate Solutions asks "If Not Now, When?" . Lee Wasserman, Director of the Rockefeller Family Fund says that the unwillingness to talk about "climate change" over the last two years is part of what sunk the bill. Thomas Friedman in a Sunday New York Times Op-ed says "We're going to be sorry." He ended the article with a quote from a hedge fund manager blaming "the fossil energy companies, driven by the need to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits" and their intentional obfuscation of inconvenient scientific results for the Senate's failure. Investor Jeremy Grantham says he admires them for their P.R. skills, but asks "have they no grandchildren?” See 1Sky's response.

Scaled-back Energy Provisions and Oil Spill Bill on the Senate Floor This Week

This week, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will bring a paired-down oil spill response bill to the Senate floor, with some limited provisions on energy as a nod to our need to reduce fossil fuel dependence. Reid himself notes that this should have been a more comprehensive solution, but nonetheless puts forward a narrowly tailored four-part bill. Reid outlines the bill's four main parts:

  • First, it ensures that BP pays to clean up its mess.
  • Second, it invests in Home Star, a bipartisan energy efficiency program that lowers consumers' energy costs and create jobs.
  • Third, it protects the environment by investing in the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
  • And fourth, it reduces our dependence on oil by making investments in vehicles that run on natural gas.

The oil response title will include reforming existing regulations on offshore drilling like increasing (and hopefully eliminating) the liability cap for oil companies in the result of an accident or disaster such as the BP Gulf Oil gusher. The Home Star program is also an urgently needed energy efficiency program that will encourage energy efficiency retrofits. Bradford Plummer of The New Republic notes that a piece of T. Boone Pickens' natural gas vehicles planmade it into the new bill, making Pickens one of the major winners in the climate and energy fight.

Hope for a Lame Duck Climate Bill?

Climate champion Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is committed to pushing for a climate bill in the Lame Duck session, between the elections in early November, and final adjournment around Christmas.

Controversial negotiations between utilities and large environmental groups like NRDC and EDF yielded a three-page outline of "key elements" agreed upon for a utility-only climate bill. The list of "elements" is remarkably similar to the Kerry-Lieberman discussion draft, and does not include any compromises on public health safeguards involving conventional pollutants, like soot, smog, and acid rain. The Hill's Darren Goode implies that this outline will help future negotiations along. Many senators continue to limit themselves to the confines of their own calendar, saying that there is no time left for climate legislation. Bradford Plumer of The New Republic pushes back:

"That's literally not true. There's plenty of time left. Months, in fact. Senators could skip the August recess, take their jobs seriously, and get to work addressing perhaps the biggest issue facing the country (and planet)."

Historically, while passing controversial legislation during the lame duck session is rather rare, it's been a surprisingly common occurrence for environmental measures. NRDC Action Fund lists a few prominent examples.

Heightened Importance on Administrative and State-Level Action

The Senate's failure to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation increases the importance of enforcing the Clean Air Act and other federal and state regulations that can achieve significant carbon reductions in the short term. Luckily the Obama Administration has been establishing new Clean Air Act rules for years, as a backup plan in case the Senate failed to act. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) led by Administrator Lisa Jackson set new vehicle efficiency standards last year, and starting next January big polluters like coal plants and oil refineries will have to comply with modern performance standards. NRDC's David Doniger has more on the Clean Air Act. The World Resources Institute (WRI) released an extensive report outlining how existing federal authorities and state laws could achieve substantial progress toward hitting the national goal of cutting carbon 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. WRI found that states and federal agencies could keep the US on track in the near-term (until about 2016), but after that they would be insufficient. Full report. With the climate bill delayed, there is a renewed interest from members of Congress to gut the Clean Air Act's ability to regulate carbon emissions. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has been promised a vote by the end of the year on his "Dirty Air Act." Members of the House are also showing a renewed interest in blocking the Clean Air Act. White House climate adviser Carol Browner noted that the Obama Administration is committed to enforcing the Clean Air Act, leading many to believe that he will likely veto any legislative attacks. “We will continue to use all the tools available to us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The President believes in the science. He believes we have a Supreme Court decision and we will continue to move forward."

Global Climate Progress Set Back by Senate Inaction

US inaction could again derail international climate negotiations set to take place in Cancun this December. Major economies are counting on the US to take a lead on this issue, as President Obama promised in Copenhagen. Developing countries like China and India are baffled that a prosperous nation like the US cannot pass a bill to reduce its own carbon emissions, when they are already taking steps forward.

BP Gulf Disaster: Day 98

Last Tuesday, gas leaking from the ocean floor close to the newly capped BP oil well caused serious concern, but Obama Administration officials and BP decided to keep the cap in place. Tropical Storm Bonnie caused another delay in the clean up effort as BP evacuated containment teams due to high seas and dangerous conditions. The Administration said the storm could cause a 14-day delay in finally sealing the well. Workers on the Deepwater Horizon Rig voiced concerns about safety and feared reprisals if they reported mistakes or other problems. Their testimony is part of a confidential survey by Transocean, the rig's owner. Oil companies that work in the Gulf of Mexico have stepped up their lobbying efforts in response to more government activity after the BP Gulf Oil Disaster. The American Petroleum Institute, the largest representative of oil and gas interests, doubled its spending on lobbyists during April, May, and June, compared to the previous 3-months. Washington D.C. is known for the revolving door between government and lobbying firms, but the oil and gas industry employs a remarkable number of former lawmakers and insiders. Three out of four lobbyists representing the oil and gas industry worked in government prior to becoming lobbyists. The Center for Responsive Politics found that fewer than 1/3 of registered lobbyists worked in government, less than 1/2 the oil industry rate.

Midterm Elections

Democrats jumped to a 6-point lead in generic polling from Gallup. 49% of votes nationally said they would prefer to vote for a Democrat while only 43% are more likely to vote Republican. This represents a large swing from a month ago, when Republicans held a 6-point lead over Democrats in the poll. The spike is generally attributed to passing Wall Street reform. The Republican party continues to stall Senate business leading up to the November elections. GOP strategists are betting that voters will be frustrated with the Democratic inaction on major issues, so stopping or stalling major legislative victories will bode well for the Republicans in the mid-term election.

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