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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gang of 10 Senators Could Upset Energy Debate

Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Blog

For the past two weeks, Democrats have been losing the energy debate -- badly. Poll after poll showed Democrats losing major ground in the fight over new oil drilling, and some declared that energy could be a turning point in the run-up to November. At the Breakthrough Institute, we ran a series of responses: here, here, here, and here.

But a "New Energy Reform Act" proposal from the "Gang of 10" -- a group of five Democrats and five Republicans in the Senate -- is starting to gain serious traction and could upset the debate.

The proposal has three basic components: 1) Tens of billions of dollars in federal investments to support the transition to advanced non-petroleum fuels, vehicles, and infrastructure; 2) Extension of renewable energy tax credits and incentives; and 3) Expanded offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and southern Atlantic states, while preserving ANWR and the West Coast.

The proposal represents a bi-partisan approach that could sweep aside Republican dominance of the energy debate, gain significant bi-partisan support after the August recess (likely to rally more support than the insistent and inflexible "Drill Here, Drill Now" sloganeering), and secure passage through Congress. It combines limited offshore drilling with major investments in new advanced alternative vehicle technology and the critical extension of renewable energy tax credits -- and its $84 billion in funding would come from repealing tax breaks on oil and gas companies and increasing their licensing fees.

The reactions so far have indicated that most see this as a saving grace for Democrats and climate advocates. Here's a short roundup:

Peter Keating, "Obama's Energy Edge," in the the New York Magazine:

McCain's ground game was working in the pre-Gang of 10 environment, and he was looking forward to keeping Obama uncomfortable on drilling. Because he has supported tax breaks for oil companies, and has opposed repealing them to pay for investments in clean energy, McCain now faces an uncomfortable choice. He can oppose the Gang of 10 plan, which will force him to defend his past votes and to explain how his stance fits into the "all of the above" approach on energy that he says he advocates. Or he can change his position and support the plan's tax increases and limits on drilling.

For Obama, in contrast, the Gang of 10 plan is a Hail Mary of a godsend. It might let him not only get past drilling and refocus on energy efficiency, but also highlight his willingness to work with Republicans at a time when the congressional Democratic leadership has been particularly inept. That's why Obama was willing to risk charges of flip-flopping on another issue and support the plan. "I am not interested in making the perfect the enemy of the good, particularly since there's so much good in this compromise," he said last Monday.

Sam Stein, "Has McCain Walked Into An Energy Trap?"
The energy debate took what could be a significant turn this past weekend: a bipartisan effort in Congress has created headaches for both Barack Obama and John McCain. But while the presumptive Democratic nominee has been criticized for acquiescing to the idea of some off-shore drilling, his Republican counterpart finds himself in a more tenuous position: cast as an unwilling-to-compromise defender of big oil, on the wrong side of public opinion.

Nate Silver, "The Gang of 10: Obama's Checkmate?":

Stay tuned for more on the debate of the century.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This new bill certainly looks promising; I don't agree with the offshore oil drilling part of it. The Senate struck down an energy subsidies bill eight times this year. The bill would have provided incentives to home owners who wish to install solar/wind/geothermal energy equipments.

If the Senate members are really serious about helping the nation achieve energy independence they must understand that renewable energy is essential and subsidies must be provided to consumers to make renewables popular.