Lame Duck Session a Big Success So Far
The first week of Congress’s lame duck session has been a big success. They haven’t done anything. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pulled a scheduled vote to invoke cloture and proceed to S. 3815, the “Promoting Natural Gas and Electric Vehicles Act of 2010,” because he did not have the 60 votes required.
S. 3815 is known around town as the Boone Pickens Payoff Bill. Pickens told Bloomberg News this week that he thought there was a better than 50-50 chance that the bill would be enacted, so we can’t celebrate yet.
The bill would provide $4.5 billion in subsidies for natural gas vehicles and $3.5 billion in subsidies for electric vehicles plus $2 billion in loans to manufacturers of natural gas vehicles. The subsidies to purchasers would range from $8,000 to $64,000. The larger payments would be for purchasers of heavy trucks that run on natural gas.
But the Lame Ducks Will Be Back after Thanksgiving
Congress will be in recess next week for Thanksgiving and will return on November 29th. There are enough big must-do items that it still seems unlikely to me that the Senate will be able to take up Pickens’s bill or the Renewable Electricity Standard (or RES) bill, S. 3813. The RES bill is sponsored by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and retiring Senator Sam Brownback (R-Ks.), who has just been elected Governor of Kansas. It now has 31 co-sponsors, including three other Republicans.
The RES bill would raise electric rates in those States that haven’t yet followed the failed California model of raising rates to impoverish consumers and drive out energy-intensive industries. My guess is that it will be blocked in the Senate by Republican and Democratic Senators from those States in the Mideast and Southeast that still depend on low-cost coal and therefore still have manufacturing. On the other hand, there is an incentive for Senators from States that have already enacted their own renewable requirements to support a national standard in order to lower the competitiveness of the States that have not adopted renewable requirements.