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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Just what the Gulf of Mexico needs: another oil well

Oil from BP’s blown-out Deepwater Horizon well continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico and will do so until August at the earliest. In response, the Obama administration extended a moratorium on deepwater drilling for six months last week. However, the president also “quietly allowed a three-week-old ban on drilling in shallow water to expire” last week (hat tip Open Left). As a result,

Federal regulators approved Wednesday the first new Gulf of Mexico oil well since President Barack Obama lifted a brief ban on drilling in shallow water, even while deepwater projects remain frozen after the massive BP spill.

The Minerals Management Service granted a new drilling permit sought by Bandon Oil and Gas for a site about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana and 115 feet below the ocean’s surface. It’s south of Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge and Game Preserve, far to the west of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that triggered the BP spill.

Chris Bowers put it mildly when he described the Obama administration’s action here as “difficult to fathom.” The president gave a speech on the economy today and talked about investing in alternative energy, but like all my parenting books say, actions speak louder than words. The greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history is unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, and BP doesn’t know how to stop it, but it’s business as usual at the Minerals Management Service. Nor is today’s permit approval an isolated case:

In the days since President Obama announced a moratorium on permits for drilling new offshore oil wells and a halt to a controversial type of environmental waiver that was given to the Deepwater Horizon rig, at least seven new permits for various types of drilling and five environmental waivers have been granted, according to records.

The records also indicate that since the April 20 explosion on the rig, federal regulators have granted at least 19 environmental waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits, most of which were for types of work like that on the Deepwater Horizon shortly before it exploded, pouring a ceaseless current of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Words fail me, so you’ll have to share your thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: In 1979 it took nine months to stop oil gushing from a shallow well in the Gulf of Mexico.

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National Tragedy Demands Real Response

One of my first real memories of tragedy was when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. My entire school was cheering on teacher Christa McAuliffe, and when the shuttle blew up in midair, I remember standing with my sobbing classmates, trying to make sense of what we had witnessed.

As an adult, I felt a similar connection the day after September 11. In the midst of a national crisis, Congressmen from both parties and both chambers stood on the Capitol stairs and sang “God Bless America.” I will never forget that moment and the sense of common cause it inspired in all who heard it.

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Obama having second thoughts on new offshore drilling?

A few weeks ago, President Barack Obama advocated expanding offshore oil drilling in a misguided attempt to reach out to Republicans on energy legislation. The president told a town-hall meeting audience on April 2, “It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced.” Think Progress exposed the inaccuracies in the president’s comments at the time, and the April 20 explosion at British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig was a tragic reminder of how much can go wrong with offshore drilling. Eleven workers were killed in the accident, and the resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico still has not been contained. If it hits the Gulf Coast, the environmental and economic damage will be immense.

Last week, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs insisted that the tragedy had not given the president second thoughts about offshore drilling:

Obama still believes that “we have to have a comprehensive solution to our energy problems,” and the spill did not open up new questions about his drilling plan, [Gibbs] said. […]

“We need the increased production. The president still continues to believe the great majority of that can be done safely, securely and without any harm to the environment,” he said.

However, presidential adviser David Axelrod announced on ABC’s Good Morning America program today that

there’s a moratorium on the expansion until the recent spill can be controlled and investigated.

“No additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what happened here,” he said.

Mike Lillis is absolutely right:

For the White House, the timing of the spill couldn’t have been worse. If Obama had stuck with his guns in opposing new drilling, he’d be seen as a prophet in the wake of this week’s Gulf disaster. Instead, by trying to make concessions to Republicans – most of whom won’t support a climate bill in any event – he’s simply alienated his conservation-minded supporters to no tangible benefit.

Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, says that any climate change bill including more offshore drilling will be “dead on arrival” in Congress. Let’s hope that message will resonates with the president. I also hope the administration will follow through on promises to make BP pay the full cost of cleaning up the oil spill.

On a related note, Mike Soraghan reports in the New York Times that BP “joined with other oil companies last year to oppose stricter safety and environmental rules” for oil rigs. I’m not surprised, and I’m not optimistic that the current disaster will lead to significantly stronger regulations on existing rigs.

UPDATE: I posted the Sierra Club’s statement after the jump. It’s worth a read.

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I wish this were an April Fool's joke

As you probably heard yesterday, President Barack Obama announced plans to expand drilling for oil off the Atlantic coast of the U.S.. Not only that, he insulted environmental advocates and their “tired” arguments against drilling.

I have nothing profound to say about this decision, but when even a big Obama fan like Oliver Willis says the administration “Clearly Took Stupid Pills Today,” that ought to tell you something. Increasing our offshore extraction of oil won’t reduce our reliance on imports from the Middle East, and Obama knows it won’t. This is just a political ploy to win some votes in the Senate while making the president look like he holds the reasonable middle ground.

Once again, Obama makes a big concession to the corporate/Republican position at the beginning of the negotiating process, without gaining anything concrete in return. A good negotiator would make that kind of concession to close the deal, and only in exchange for something significant (like a hugely ambitious renewable electricity standard).

The Senate energy bill (let’s not even pretend it’s a “climate change” bill anymore) will probably allow more offshore drilling that the president announced, and that will probably be fine with the White House. Environmentalists will be asked to clap louder at “progress” or be grateful that Obama didn’t sell us out in a more egregious way.

I am tired of having to fight this kind of battle when the Democrats control Washington. It’s another reason I probably will never again give to Democratic committees at the levels I did from 2004 through 2007.

UPDATE: I recommend reading this post at EnviroKnow: “Dems More Trusted on Energy than Any Other Issue, Yet they Continue Pursuing Polluter-Friendly GOP Ideas.”

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Plenty of hypocrisy to go around on energy bill

On September 16, the House of Representatives approved the Comprehensive American Energy Security and Consumer Protection Act. The vote split 236 to 189, mostly along partisan lines. Iowa Representatives Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack and Leonard Boswell all voted with the Democratic majority in favor of the bill. Tom Latham and Steve King voted with most Republicans against the bill.

You can read the bill summary here.

In essence, this legislation was designed to give Democrats cover on the offshore oil drilling issue. The Democratic majority caved by allowing for more drilling between 50 and 100 miles of the shore. This will do nothing to reduce our reliance on foreign oil or lower the cost of gas, but it will give Democratic incumbents a response as Republican candidates hammer them on how we need to “drill here, drill now.”

To give Democrats cover for caving on offshore drilling, the bill also contains lots of good things, like renewed tax credits for wind and solar power, more investment in public transportation, better energy-efficiency standards, a federal renewable electricity standard (which would require 15 percent of electricity generated in the U.S. to come from renewable sources by 2020). In addition, it would end tax subsidies for large oil and gas companies and ban the export of Alaskan oil.

The Oil Drum blog noted,

It is not too surprising that the oil and gas industry is not in favor of the legislation. The legislation provides for a whole host of benefits, and a big piece of the cost would be paid for by new taxes on oil and gas companies. The off-shore drilling provision could best be described as window dressing.

Unfortunately, these benefits will not happen, because Republicans don’t need to pass a compromise energy bill in order to clear the way for more offshore drilling.

They can just wait for the current ban on offshore drilling to expire on September 30. In past years, Democrats in Congress have fought to extend the ban on offshore drilling, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew she did not have the votes to accomplish that this year. So, the bill will die in the Senate:

The bill faces a very uncertain future. The Senate is set to take up three separate energy bills, which differ sharply from the House measure. The White House issued a veto threat Tuesday, saying the House bill “purports to open access to American energy sources while in reality taking actions to stifle development.”

Senate Republicans may choose to block action on any energy bill and allow the moratorium to expire on Sept. 30. If the drilling ban lapses, the Bush administration could begin the process of preparing oil and gas lease sales in new areas as close as 3 miles offshore.

Pelosi and others talked about their big victory in getting this bill through the House, but that so-called victory won’t amount to much besides allowing Democratic incumbents to tell constituents they voted for offshore drilling.

The hypocrisy of Republicans on this issue is even worse.

Remember when a bunch of House Republicans demanded a special Congressional session this summer to deal with energy policy? Remember when Republican delegates to the GOP national convention chanted, “Drill, baby, drill!”

The Republican majority proved that they are not in favor of a comprehensive energy policy that would reduce oil consumption, promote renewable energy, and take tax breaks away from companies posting record profits this year.

Not only that, some Republicans tried to pass a motion to adjourn to block passage of this bill.

I totally agree with this statement from Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope:

Today, Republicans in the House were given a chance to pull America out of its energy crisis, and they refused. Majority leadership reached across the aisle to offer a package that includes both clean energy provisions and expanded offshore drilling. But supporters of Big Oil dug their heels in, refusing to support a truly comprehensive energy package because it did not do enough to help the oil industry and instead attempted a stunt to force a drill-only approach.

If House Republicans were honestly interested in clean energy, consumer protection, or a crackdown on ethics at federal agencies, they would have supported this package wholeheartedly. Instead, they fought it, proving beyond a doubt that their single, narrow aim is to increase profits for the oil industry.

For months, they have held up clean energy legislation, instead calling for a drill-only policy which will do nothing to lower gas prices, protect consumers, or solve our energy crisis. They have continued to demand that we open more of our nation’s coasts and public lands to drilling, which will lock us into a future of dependence on oil. They have maneuvered to undermine any bill that doesn’t put the oil industry first and hardworking Americans last.

With their latest failed trick, many Republicans in the House confirmed without a doubt that they will not be satisfied until the oil industry has an even tighter grip on our economy.

The full text of Pope’s statement is after the jump.

Though I find this whole episode depressing, it should motivate us to elect Barack Obama and more and better Democrats to Congress. Doing so won’t necessarily bring us a perfect energy policy, but we will certainly see some improvement on the charade we have now.

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