The Skywriter

Policy Update 11/16/2010: Congress reconvenes for lame duck session


Policy Update 11/16/2010: Congress reconvenes for lame duck session

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The midterm elections have resulted in a less ambitious than anticipated lame duck session of Congress. Members of the House and Senate will return this week to debate the Bush tax cuts, an appropriations bill, and possibly some smaller energy provisions involving natural gas vehicles. New members are in town for orientation as parties sort out new leadership positions and strategy for the coming year.

Lame Duck Outlook:

The list of lame duck priorities has shrunk as a result of Democratic losses in the election. The brief congressional session is expected to be dominated by discussing whether or not to renew the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, but some smaller energy and environment pieces could come up as well. Politico has a comprehensive roundup.

  • T. Boone Pickens' natural gas and electric vehicles bill (S. 3815) is the most likely to be considered. It could be voted on as early as Wednesday.
  • Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and others will be pushing the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) passed out of his energy committee last spring.
  • The continuing resolution (CR) that must pass by December 3rd to keep the government funded could be a battleground over renewable tax incentives or attacks on the Clean Air Act.

Frank Rich wrote a column this Sunday connecting the Bush tax cut debate to energy policy. Rich notes that most of the wealthiest Americans

tend to be in industries like coal, natural gas, chemicals and casinos rather than forward-looking businesses involving the Green Economy, tech or biotechnology. . . not exactly the formula for America's vaunted entrepreneurial wealth machine.

Additionally, Astroturf group Americans for Prosperity founded by dirty energy billionaires, the Koch brothers, recently launched a campaign called "November Speaks" claiming that the election was driven by a popular rejection of "tax the rich" ideas.

Clean Air Act Rules Set to Move Forward in January:

Last week the EPA issued guidance documents for the first phase of its 'big polluters rule' aimed at curbing carbon pollution from large sources, like coal plants. This new rule is geared specifically toward new or expanding plants, requiring these new investments to use "Best Available Control Technology," or BACT. The BACT determination is set differently for each type of facility based on a number of factors, including cost. The new rule will encourage plant-wide energy efficiency measures, cleaner fuels, and help make clean energy more competitive with fossil fuels.

House Leadership Shuffle:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader John Boehner (D-OH) will both continue to lead their respective parties, but key committee seats are still being sorted out: Climate champion Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) is making a bid to become the Ranking Member on the Natural Resources Committee, challenged by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-NM).

In the House Energy and Commerce Committee, stiff competition exists between conservative Reps Upton (R-MI) and Rep. Shimkus (R-IL), who are both thought to have a better shot at the chairmanship than former chairman (and BP apologist) Rep Joe Barton (R-TX).

Rep. Shimkus recently noted that he is standing by previous statements citing passages from Genesis to support his belief that humans will be unharmed by climate change. The New York Times has an interesting piece about how former House Majority Leader Dick Army is already playing a key role coordinating an inside-outside strategy to ensure that the new bases of power within the GOP are supported by an ongoing grassroots campaign in their home districts. This strategy is giving him and his organization Freedom Works great influence over Republican leadership in D.C.

International Climate Conference in Cancun:

At Copenhagen last year, the U.S. committed to reducing carbon emissions 17% by 2020, and contributing our share of $100 billion annually by 2020 which would help developing countries adapt to climate change, and build a global clean energy economy. Recent studies from the UN maintain that the annual $100 billion goal is possible using revenue from comprehensive legislation discussed in developing countries. The Cancun conference will last from November 28 through December 10.

1Sky is working with Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Jubilee, and Action Aid to make sure the U.S. affirms their commitment to climate finance, despite setbacks in domestic legislation.

What Comes Next?

With chances of comprehensive climate legislation dropping off over the last few months, many climate hawks have been left asking "what's next?" We at 1Sky asked that and received productive feedback from members of the climate justice community:

  • Jeff Goodell argues that coal in America is in a precarious situation: wielding an unprecedented amount of power yet aware of their impending decline, hastened by activists who have succeeded in canceling 145 proposed plants.
  • Joe Romm holds that President Obama put his legacy at risk by not acting decisively on climate change. Romm argues that the only way to rally the public around serious climate action is a much different climate narrative from political leaders, and the media.

At 1Sky, we're reminding our elected officials, old and new, that the climate movement is in this fight for the long haul.

Congressional Timeline

  • Nov 15th: post-election session of 111th Congress begins (i.e. the lame duck)
  • Nov 16th-18th: Leadership elections in Senate and House
  • Nov 22nd-26th: Thanksgiving recess
  • Dec 3rd: The current "continuing resolution" on appropriations expires (which means they need to vote on another resolution before then)
  • Jan 3rd: The 112th Congress begins.

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