So-called energy package a disgrace for Democrats

If the “energy package” about to emerge in the Senate looks anything like what Kate Sheppard is hearing, Senate Democrats should be ashamed. I threw in the towel on the climate bill a long time ago, because it was clear no serious attempt to address global warming could gain 60 votes in the Senate. Still, I thought some decent provisions might survive in a scaled-back energy bill.

Not so, according to Sheppard, who’s among the best reporters covering climate legislation. Sources from “several Senate offices” told her what’s likely to be in the new bill, and what will be conspicuously absent:

Obviously, there’s no carbon cap, that much we already knew. But there’s also no other major energy efficiency standards, and, perhaps most importantly, no renewable electricity standard -not even the weak one included in the energy bill last year. […]

Senate aides hoping to put a positive spin on the package note that it at least does not include any of the really bad measures that progressive senators were worried about, including major incentives for coal and nuclear power and the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

Are we supposed to be impressed that the largest Democratic Senate majority in decades won’t press ahead with “really bad measures” for the environment?

For all of President Barack Obama’s talk about our clean energy future, we won’t even get a renewable electricity standard to boost wind and solar production. We won’t get new energy efficiency standards, even though reducing demand for electricity tends to be faster and cheaper than building new facilities to generate electricity.

The American Wind Energy Association put out an action alert urging people to contact their senators demanding a renewable electricity standard in the energy bill. If you are so inclined, you can contact your senators through this page. I will contact the offices of Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, although doing so probably won’t accomplish anything.

This disgrace gives me yet another reason not to donate to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the future. I don’t plan to waste my money or volunteer time on Organizing for America either. Obama failed to use his bully pulpit to produce a good climate bill and made stupid concessions to polluting industries along the way. He’s so afraid of losing a legislative battle that he didn’t even fight the good fight. But when he signs this worthless energy bill, he’ll probably declare victory in a very inspiring speech.

UPDATE: How pathetic–a White House official provides a blind quote to Politico blaming environmental groups for the Senate’s failure to pass a broad climate bill:

“They didn’t deliver a single Republican,” the official told POLITICO. “They spent like $100 million and they weren’t able to get a single Republican convert on the bill.”

Poor Mr. President. He could have delivered on one of his major campaign promises if the environmentalists hadn’t let him down.

SECOND UPDATE: I couldn’t agree more with Transportation 4 America: “With the Senate backing down on a real climate bill, it’s more important than ever that next transport bill helps make climate progress.”

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Legislator scorecards don't tell the whole story

One of my pet peeves is when interest groups release rank legislators according to how they have voted on a few key bills. These scorecards can be helpful as a general guideline, but some lawmakers game the system by voting the “right” way on a scorecard issue but voting with the other side on procedural measures. A classic example was when some pro-choice and environmental groups gave Senator Joe Lieberman credit for voting against confirming Justice Samuel Alito, even though Lieberman had voted against the filibuster that was the only realistic way to keep Alito off the Supreme Court.

Progressive Punch has a search engine that lets you view how individual members of Congress have voted in certain issue categories. Even more useful, Progressive Punch has incorporated a “crucial vote” score that includes bills and procedural measures that passed or failed by narrow margins. You’d be surprised by how many Democrats have high Progressive Punch ratings overall but much lower crucial vote scores, indicating that “when the chips were down,” these people were not reliable allies.

But even the Progressive Punch rating system doesn’t tell the whole story, because committee and floor votes aren’t the only way for legislators to exercise their power.

Yesterday Environment Iowa reminded me of the problems with scorecards when the group announced its rating of Iowa’s members of Congress. The scores were based on “seven votes in the Senate ranging from an economic recovery bill with investments in public transit and energy efficiency to legislation saving the nation’s coasts from offshore drilling,” and 15 votes in the House “including funding to make schools more energy efficient and legislation protecting the Great Lakes.” Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Leonard Boswell (IA-03) received 100 percent scores, while Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) scored 93 percent and Representative Bruce Braley (IA-01) scored 80 percent. Environment Iowa commented, “These numbers include a few absences from key votes that occurred during the floods of 2008.”

A few things are very wrong with this picture.  

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