President Obama has decided that the Gulf oil spill means we need to change the way we power our entire country, not just the way we regualte offshore drilling. Politico reports today that the next three weeks will be crucial to that effort, with the ball in the court of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:
The options will break down into three core elements, and the question will be how the leaders choose to combine them.
The first and easiest piece is a Gulf-spill response measure to reform offshore drilling and raise disaster liabilities on oil companies. “That one’s must-pass,” said Scott Segal, an energy lobbyist at Bracewell & Giuliani, echoing the sentiments of congressional staff members on both sides of the aisle.
The second element is a clean-energy bill that would require a boost in renewable electricity produced by sources such as wind and solar. A version of this bill, sponsored by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), was passed by the panel last year with bipartisan support and is widely viewed as the most palatable clean-energy compromise now in the Senate.
The third, biggest and most contentious piece is a price on greenhouse gas emissions — a policy at the heart of the climate change debate. In a nod to how heavy a lift this would be, it’s likely that the carbon-cap piece will be limited to pollution from power plants and will not apply across the economy.
The article suggests that Bingaman and other Democrats believe they don’t have the votes for cap and trade, and that a package with the first two pieces is more likely. This scenario has environmentalists riled up, not just because of the dim prospects for cap and trade, but because the target for a renewable-energy mandate may end up at 15 percent of all the nation’s power — rather than the 20 percent requirement in a bill the House passed last year, or the 25 percent that Obama advocated while campaigning.
Is it just me, or is this the health debate, part deux?
Cap and trade, like the public option, is a long-held goal on the left (well, in cap and trade’s case, long is relative to the age of the global warming debate) that looks to be shot down because too many legislators know that they’d lose their jobs if they passed it.
So, we move on to the left’s next-best thing in the debate, mandating renewable energy; think mandating certain coverage aspects in health care. With the most drastic option out of the way, this is where the left and right will fight it out.
The left will push for higher percentages than are feasible, in terms of economics and probably logistics as well (the best areas for solar and wind generation are not necessarily where the demand for power is greatest). Note in the Politico article that the environmentalists object to energy efficiency being part of the renewable requirement. Nothing will ever be enough for them, because they object far more to our way of life than our means of power generation.
The right will argue that we can’t afford what Democrats are proposing, that the Western European nations that have tried such a renewables push before us have been slowly backing away from those policies, and that forcing electricity rates to jump (even if they wouldn’t quite “skyrocket” as Obama admitted would happen with cap and trade) is an especially terrible idea amid a sluggish recovery.
The left will proceed to brand Republicans and conservatives as spiteful planet haters.
The right will suggest that Congress respond to the oil spill by simply passing a bill that deals with drilling regulations, and continue to work on the broader energy question, since electricity generation itself has nothing to do with the energy needs that petroleum fills. The left will sneer at that, because it knows that the broader policy question will go nowhere on its own merits. (Come to think of it, this mirrors the immigration debate as well.)
The difference, if it comes, may be whether Obama, Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi still have the juice to make vulnerable Democrats take the poison. Or whether they can contort enough parliamentary procedures to get what they want without a proper vote.
And at the end of the day, if they can pull it through, Democrats will have enraged conservatives and peeved moderates for a legislative “achievement” that doesn’t even satisfy their most liberal supporters.