The Skywriter

Policy update 9/14/10: Congress resumes


Policy update 9/14/10: Congress resumes

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Both chambers of Congress will resumed after a five-week recess. With Labor Day behind them, and football season underway, both parties are in election mode, and no major legislation is expected to be considered. Addressing the expired Bush tax cuts will take up most of the air time, but there's a chance we could see movement on some smaller energy packages, namely Home Star.

Congressional Timeline:

  • 9/13: Congress returns from recess
  • 10/8: Target adjournment for the House and Senate
  • 11/2: Election Day
  • 11/15: Beginning of Senate lame duck session (tentative)

Congressional Priorities

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) suggested that a narrow energy bill could be considered in the next few weeks, including Home Star and a package of incentives for natural gas trucks. Senator Reid does not plan on bringing up a broader energy bill before the elections, but has been saying that both a "spill bill" and a federal RES are still in play. Reid has also been more and more blunt in saying that a cap on carbon will not be considered this year. The big agenda item for both houses of Congress will be to address the Bush tax cuts, set to expire at the end of the year.

Retiring Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) has agreed to provide the 60th vote needed to push through a package of small-business incentives, including a $30 billion loan fund to improve access to credit. The bill would then bounce to the House, where it is expected to pass quickly. House Democratic leaders also plan to advance their "Make it in America" slate of smaller incentives aimed at reviving the U.S. manufacturing sector.

Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act's rule-making process continues to move fro ward, setting performance standards for vehicles and big polluters, like coal plants. These new standards are being attacked relentlessly by oil and coal interests, who are trying to pass a "Dirty Air Act" through Congress. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson recently reiterated President Obama's veto threat on "any attempt to take away [Clean Air Act] authority." Nonetheless, "Dirty Air Act" threats continue to bubble up in Congress, perhaps even this week in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Polluting industries are also encouraging state-level officials to challenge EPA rules in the courts (sub. req.).

A groundbreaking new study from the Clean Air Task Force attributes more than 13,000 premature deaths/year to particulate pollution from coal plants. Coal pollution is responsible for asthma attacks, hospitalizations, heart attacks, bronchitis, and other ailments. Check out this map to find your risk.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that a number of utilities are turning away from coal due to regulatory uncertainty and cost-effective alternatives to new plants.

Obama Administration Update

In addition to the EPA's work enforcing coal regulations, the Obama Administration has been taking steps to reduce emissions from the U.S. Government. Executive Order 13423 mandates carbon reductions of 28% by 2020, and a host of other ambitious sustainability targets. Last week more than 50 executive agencies released plans outlining how their goals would be met.

Our friends over at tried to help the White House show symbolic climate leadership by putting one of President Jimmy Carter's solar panels back on the White House. co-founder and 1Sky Board Member Bill McKibben teamed up with a group of college students to present the panel to administration staff in DC. The panel was politely refused, the staff insisting that they would establish a "deliberative process to figure out what is appropriate for the White House someday."

Midterm Election Outlook

Nate Silver of predicts, based on current polling data, that Republicans will likely take over the House, and Democrats will likely hold onto the Senate. House modeling predicts a 2-in-3 chance of a Republican majority, 225-210. Senate modeling predicts a 1-in-4 chance of a Republican Senate majority, 52-48. An analysis of candidate web sites shows that after health care, energy is one of the issues most discussed by candidates on both sides of the aisle.

Finally, a word from 1Sky's new Campaign Director, Liz Butler.

Prepared by Jason Kowalski. Please direct questions or comments to

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