Reid’s Energy Bill Letter: The Case of the Missing Word
When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asked major committee chairmen yesterday to offer “recommendations or report legislation” on clean energy before July 4, with an eye to considering a post-oil spill bill later that month, several news outlets interpreted the letter as boosting momentum for a climate change bill.
But as Center for American Progress Action Fund blogger Joe Romm quickly pointed out, there was one big word missing from Reid’s letter to the chairmen: “climate.” The Senate letter includes no indication that the energy measure under consideration would include a nationwide cap on greenhouse gas emissions or a price on carbon, which President Obama directly called for in his Pittsburgh speech on Wednesday.
Of course, Reid’s omission of any reference to a full-scale emissions cap could have been inadvertent. What makes the absence of the C-word from the Senate letter a potentially ominous sign for environmental groups?
The fact that several senior Senate Democrats, including Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), have pushed all year for a smaller, “energy-only” bill that would include a renewable electricity standard and other clean-fuel incentives — but not the greenhouse gas limits that were present in the House-passed climate plan.
Reid acknowledged the choice before him in an interview with Univision last month, suggesting that he might be forced to call up a trimmed, energy-specific bill if Republicans did not come to the table. “The big bill that we need to do, they are not helping us on that,” he said.
The Gulf oil disaster has undoubtedly shifted the politics of oil, increasing the prospects for stronger safety standards, regulation of the industry, and new taxes — a prospect of which the industry is well aware. But so far, the devastation along the nation’s southeastern coast has opened few new eyes in the Senate to the benefits of a hard cap on greenhouse gases.
If the spill ends up giving Democrats cover to aim for an energy bill that can overcome a GOP filibuster this summer, leaving strict emissions limits on the cutting-room floor, fierce pushback from environmental groups would likely ensue. But those green advocates might want to start by asking why the word “climate” never made it into yesterday’s letter.