Washington, D.C., July 22, 2010 — Is anyone really surprised that Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has finally declared major energy legislation dead? For weeks, Reid has been singing words from a country classic that I’m sure he knew were false: “Mother’s not dead, she’s only sleeping.” Today, he recognized the corpse before him, proclaiming that there will be no vote on major energy legislation prior to the month-long August recess.
By the time Reid pulled the plug on the pumps and drips and resuscitators, the mother of all energy legislation — attempts to control U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide by entirely dubious methods — was a reeking piece of political dead meat. The House far earlier passed legislation — the Waxman-Markey bill — that was one of the most complex, compromised and dubious pieces of energy legislation I’ve seen in my 35 years of following the ins and outs (mostly outs) of energy politics. The Senate, thankfully, was having nothing to do with it.
It was clear, to me at least, that major energy legislation was dead the day the House acted. There was no way the Senate, with its modern requirement of 60 votes to even agree on the time of day, could agree on anything even half as sweeping. So we went through all kinds of posturing and hand-waving, amid White House encouragement, including the Kerry-Lieberman charade, with a cameo appearance by South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham.
A major part of the problem: it soon became clear to anyone paying attention that none of the bills Democrats were pushing, particularly the overweight, staggering pile of provisions that passed the House, would actually result in changes to the world’s climate. That was true even if it were the case that man-made CO2 was causing global warming (or “climate change” in the lingo of political correctness).
Once the Democratic leadership recognized that the cap-and-trade approach was doomed in the Senate, the retreat position was an electric-utility-only bill, aimed at cutting utility carbon dioxide emissions. Some important utility leaders, including Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers, supported this approach, but only if they could get concessions on relaxing proposed EPA rules on real pollution, primarily NOx and ozone. My suspicion is that Rogers and other execs who supported the utility-only approach figured they could game any carbon control system that resulted.
But the Rogers contingent didn’t have enough muscle. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the American Public Power Association opposed the narrow, utility-only plan. Public power has substantial clout in Washington. The Edison Electric Institute — the big bruisers of electric lobbying — never took a position.
Reid blamed the Republicans for sinking substantive energy legislation. That’s typical partisan posturing, but not entirely true. Sure, Reid was unable to win even one Republican vote for a utility-only bill. More significant is that he couldn’t muster 59 Democratic votes. My head count suggests there were at least six Democratic senators who would not vote for the utility-only legislation.
At a press conference today, Reid said, “It’s easy to count to 60. I could do it by the time I was in eighth grade. My point is this, we know where we are. We know we don’t have the votes.” Energy Committee chairman Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico said, “Given the time constraints, this probably is a realistic judgment on his part.”
Congress is speeding toward the August recess, when the members will be home for the month, many campaigning for reelection. Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman were suggesting another attempt at sweeping energy legislation when the Senate returns to session in September. Lieberman talked about “negotiating a broader utilities-only bill in September.”
That’s probably wishful thinking. Politico quoted North Dakota’s Byron Dorgan, chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, “I don’t think there are going to be two energy packages on the floor this year. Whatever comes to the floor on energy [before August] is going to be the package we’re going to consider.” Bingaman added, “We’ve got very substantial constraints on our time when we get back,”