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1Sky Policy Update 7/6/2010 - Senate Home for Recess, Then Back to Work for Four Weeks

7
Jul

1Sky Policy Update 7/6/2010 - Senate Home for Recess, Then Back to Work for Four Weeks

US Capitol small

The packed legislative calendar and upcoming November elections make July a crucial month for addressing clean energy and climate legislation. Senate Democrats and the Obama Administration remain committed to pivoting off of the oil disaster in the Gulf and passing a clean energy bill, but a concrete legislative package has yet to emerge in the Senate.

Senate Time line:

  • 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

Senate Climate Bill Update

President Obama met with a bi-partisan group of Senators at the White House last Tuesday to discuss a path forward on comprehensive legislation. The President and others reiterated the need for a price on carbon, but participants did not address specifics. Senators like Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are saying that the silence on details from Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) and President Obama makes negotiations on legislation difficult. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) has been identified as a possible leader for stitching together a comprehensive energy and climate package, but that role is complicated by his preference for passing energy-only legislation (ACELA, S.1462). While some have argued the the Senate can pass a comprehensive bill after the elections in November, Senator Bingaman thinks whatever will be signed into law this year must be finished up by August recess. Senator Bingaman has been working on his own utility-only bill and has been discussing details with Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

"We have a draft proposal, but we have not introduced anything; I don't have any immediate plans to do so," Bingaman said on a conference call after the meeting [with President Obama].

Bingaman said he thinks there are ways to design Kerry-Lieberman or a "cap and dividend" bill from Senator Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator Collins (R-ME) to have them focus solely on the utility sector.

  • Senator Bingaman's utility-only bill aims to cut utility emissions 17% below 2005 by 2020.
  • Senator Bingaman's energy-only bill (ACELA, S.1462) could do more harm than good.

So far Senator Snowe is the only swing vote on climate to be publicly swayed by a "utility-only" cap, but some hope she may be able to court Republicans from the Northeast by using RGGI as a model for a national program. Senator Snowe has been working behind the scenes for months to encourage both sides of the aisle to consider a cap on carbon emissions. Other than positive remarks from Senator Snowe, there is no evidence suggesting that moving from an economy-wide cap to a utility-only cap will significantly change the politics in the Senate and swing enough votes to stop a filibuster. Even an unambitious utility-only approach is facing hostility from most Senate Republicans. Some moderate Democrats, including Senator Dorgan (D-ND), Senator Lincoln (D-AR), and Senator Rockefeller (D-WV) are concerned with even a scaled-back utility-only climate bill. Nonetheless, the Obama Administration and Democratic leaders like Senator John Kerry (D-MA) have announced their willingness to pursue a utility-only approach.

According to E&E News, Administration officials like Secretary of Energy Steven Chu have been supportive of a utility-only cap for the last four months. Also, according to electric utility industry lobbyist Scott Segal, the electric utility industry is demanding concessions beyond a utility-only cap. They will also want exemptions from upcoming EPA regulations to curb smog, soot and mercury emissions, as well as other hazardous air pollutants and coal ash waste. Both parties see the BP Gulf Disaster as an opportunity in a contentious election year, which puts pressure on Democrats to pass legislation.

NRDC's Dan Lashoff has a helpful blog explaining the difference between capping utilities versus including multiple stationary sources, like heavy industry or natural gas heating.

Senator Robert Byrd's Death

With the death of Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), the Democratic caucus is now two votes short of breaking a filibuster which will make their entire legislative agenda more difficult. Byrd's replacement is likely to be more sympathetic to the coal industry than the late Senator given the political leanings of Governor Joe Machin (WV), who will be appointing a replacement until a special election in 2012.

BP Oil Disaster Update - Day 78

The BP Drilling Disaster is now the worst Gulf spill in history. According to recent estimates, more than 140 million gallons of crude have leaked into the Gulf, surpassing the Ixtac disaster off the coast of Mexico in 1979. The gusher continues to spill up to 2.5 million gallons per day. Hurricane Alex, the first of the season, wreaked havoc on clean-up operations in the Gulf of Mexico forcing oil-skimming boats to the docks and spilling oil over protective booms. The rough seas from Hurricane Alex spread oiled-waves onto beaches that had not seen oil in weeks and crippled clean-up operations even though it was more than 500 miles away.

Incredible photos of "Hands Across the Sand" events keep coming in from across the globe. Our friends at 350.org have a great collection of Hands Across the Sand photos on the facebook group "1,000,000 Strong Against Offshore Drilling.".

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

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