Energy Collective blog power policy climate - the conversation happens here

Monday, November 20, 2006

New Congress Could Tackle CO2 Emissions

Change in Congressional Leadership May Signal a New Press for Federal Climate Change Policy

[From this week's Clearing Up, Issue 1263 - available by subscription only:]

Flush from their election victory, Democrats last week filled leadership positions and outlined their priorities for the Congressional session that begins in January. Energy issues were high on the agendas of most of them, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Speaker-elect of the House.

With Democrats calling for a new energy policy that would bring "true energy independence," Pelosi repeated her pledge to repeal what she called "billions of dollars of subsidies to energy companies." Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who will take over the Committee on Energy and Commerce, also promised to investigate "oil subsidies" and to revisit Vice President Cheney's controversial energy task force and the energy bill it created.

The House Resources Committee will see an aboutface as Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) takes the chairmanship now held by Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.). Pombo, who lost his seat to wind-energy expert Jerry McNerney, was a strong supporter of energy development in national parks and forests. He also championed a move to lift the federal moratorium on drilling for oil and gas off the nation's coastline, and sharp curtailments to the Endangered Species Act.

In a statement shortly after he was named Resources chair, Rahall promised to "protect the wilderness potential of public lands . . . and restore our oceans and fisheries."

Senate Democrats gave Harry Reid (D-Nev.) the top job as Majority Leader. With nuclear power gaining credibility in Congress, Reid is expected to use his position to fight the federal plan to store nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Reid supports storing the waste at the site where it's produced. He also indicated strong support for renewable energy resources.

At a meeting last week with geothermal industry officials, Reid said they could benefit from more incentives to produce power. The statement was welcomed by the renewables industry, which is lobbying Congress to extend the inflation adjusted production tax credit. The $18/MWh PTC (which will escalate to $19/MWh next year) is set to expire at the end of 2007. Reid admitted "we have some tax problems," but would not specifically comment on the PTC.

The key Senate energy job will go to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Bingaman has always eschewed confrontation, and indicated last week that he will continue that policy, saying he is "looking forward to . . . continuing the spirit of bipartisanship with my colleague [current committee chair] Pete Domenici (R-N.M.)."

Bingaman echoed the call to reduce the nation's dependence on fossil fuels "by increasing energy efficiency and promoting renewable technologies. "It is imperative that Congress address our energy future. Our dangerous addiction to foreign oil, the need to restructure our energy system to avoid the harmful potential of global warming and rising gas prices, will be issues that both sides of the aisle will desire to take up," he said.

The Senate Energy Committee will lose Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is leaving to assume the chairmanship of the Rules Committee, but it will gain brand-new Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.).

Perhaps the biggest change will occur when Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) takes over the Environment and Public Works Committee. The panel is currently led by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has said that scientific evidence on global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind." Boxer appears to take nearly the opposite position, promising last week that legislation to curb greenhouse gases will be one of her top priorities next year.

"Nowhere is there a greater threat to future generations than the disastrous effects of global warming," said Boxer. The California lawmaker said she would hold hearings on the several global warming measures introduced this year. Those bills target carbon dioxide emissions, with some offering an emissions trading system.

But with President Bush strongly opposed to CO2 regulations, Boxer faces a major hurdle. Last week she took a step toward surmounting that hurdle with a letter to Bush seeking support for mandatory limits on greenhouse gases. "The recent elections have signaled a need to change in many areas, including global warming," said the Nov. 15 letter, which was also signed by Bingaman and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.).

"When the 110th Congress begins in January, we pledge to work to pass an effective system of mandatory limits on greenhouse gases. We urge you to work with us . . . to signal to the world that global warming legislation is on the way," continued the letter.

Environmental Groups Press Bush Administration on Climate Change Policy

Having apparently scored victories in the congressional races, environmental groups last week turned their focus on the Bush Administration. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit charging the executive with failing to produce a national assessment of the impact of global warming. The review, which was due in 2004, is mandated under the Global Change Research Act of 1990.

The plaintiffs hope to force the U.S. Climate Change Science Program to produce the assessment, which would include the most recent data on the impact of global warming on the nation's environment, economy and public health. The groups called the assessment "one of the most important tools to grapple with this complex, potentially overwhelming and yet all-important issue."

While the administration would not comment directly on the lawsuit, White House spokesman Ben Fallon was quoted as defending the Bush record on global warming. "The president has been focused on results-driven research for practical ways to address climate change in ways that aren't damaging to the economy," he said.

Lame Duck Congress Not Expected to Act on Offshore Drilling Bills

The lame duck Congress is not expected to act on major bills, which could kill the effort to expand drilling off the nation's coastline. A House bill that essentially would have ended the federal moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration is considered dead; a Senate bill to allow drilling in a large area of the Gulf of Mexico is teetering on the edge. The natural gas industry and President Bush continue to press lawmakers to approve the Senate measure, but sources say it's unlikely to pass.

Most in the industry are pinning their hopes on the next session, but it could be a slim hope. Pelosi has offered tentative support for the Senate bill, but has made it clear she opposes lifting the federal moratorium. Bingaman and other Democrats are not happy with the Senate bill because it gives states much of the royalties from oil and gas leases.

While I don't expect to see a federal climate change policy signed into law during Bush's term in office, I see the change in Congressional leadership as an opportunity to at least begin seriously working towards carbon legislation.

Any real movement towards an energy policy that addresses the threat of climate change has been repeatedly stalled by both the Bush Administration and it's appointees in the various federal agencies and departments as well as several key Republican leaders in Congress, Pombo and Inhofe in particular.

With key committee chairs and Congressional leadership positions in both the House and Senate filled by Democrats open to climate change policy, we should at least see hearings working on crafting appropriate legislative responses to climate change, and probably debate on the floor on one or more bills. Perhaps a bill will even clear the House and Senate, forcing a hopefully unpopular vetoe from President Bush.

I am more hopeful that other pieces of energy legislation that will help develop our nation's abundant homegrown renewable energy resources will pass in the upcoming session. I'm pretty confident that the Production Tax Credit will be extended, hopefully out to at least 2010, which would go a long way to maintain the boom in renewables development in the U.S..

Maybe some of these policy suggestions - or something similar - will also pass.

No comments: