Post image for Does Sen. Jay Rockefeller Serve West Virginians or Harry Reid?

Late in the 111th Congress, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was building bipartisan support for a Resolution of Disapproval under the Congressional Review Act that would strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Due to a parliamentary quirk, the Resolution needed only a majority to pass (that is, it wouldn’t necessitate 60 votes to beat a filibuster) and it was entitled to a vote, so the Democratic leadership in the Senate could not sweep it under a rug. Moreover, there are 23 Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2012, and the political mood of the country in the summer of 2010 was shifting right. (This was evidenced by the GOP’s success in last November’s elections.) As such, an EPA reform bill was an attractive vote for many Senate Democrats from purple states, where the EPA is held is lower esteem than in, say, California or New York. As a result of these factors, Sen. Murkowski’s Resolution appeared to have good prospects.

Enter Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). Just as Sen. Murkowski’s Resolution was gaining steam, Sen. Rockefeller introduced legislation that would delay the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases for two years, rather than repeal its authority outright (as Sen. Murkowski’s Resolution would have done).

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Post image for Senate Update: McConnell Amendment Vote

The Senate may vote today on the McConnell Amendment to S. 493.  The amendment is identical to S. 482, the Energy Tax Prevention Act, which was passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday evening, with bipartisan support. The legislation would revoke the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Although this looked like a long shot when Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) surprised everyone by offering it yesterday, the Democratic leadership realized late yesterday afternoon that they might lose.  That’s when Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced his two-year delay bill as an amendment.  That has fallen flat.  The outcome appears to be in doubt this morning.  There could be a vote and McConnell’s amendment could pass narrowly.  There could be a vote and the amendment could fail narrowly.  There could be a deal on all the amendments pending and the amendment could be withdrawn as part of the deal.  McConnell could pull the amendment because it’s going to fail.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) could pull the bill from the floor because the amendment is going to pass.

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Post image for Waxman’s Latest Talking Point Is Wrong

Jean Chemnick at Energy & Environment News this morning reported on a Center for American Progress event yesterday, during which U.S. Representative Henry Waxman made an eye-catching claim about the politics of energy rationing. According to Waxman, the conventional wisdom that “energy and environmental issues are more regional than partisan” is wrong, because “there is now a starker divide between the parties on environmental issues than at any time during my career.”

The record suggests otherwise. Consider,

Post image for Senator Al Franken’s Shakedown Undermined Energy Secretary Chu’s Defense

Energy Secretary Steven Chu today testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the Obama administration’s  budget for the Department of Energy (DOE). Despite the fact that the DOE has yet to spend $21 billion in stimulus money (about 60% of its 2010 budget), the White House proposed a 12% budget increase.

Minnesota Senator Al Franken was unconcerned with the deficit implications of giving billions more taxpayer dollars to a bureaucracy that has yet to spend the billions of taxpayer dollars it already has. Instead, he had a much more parochial matter in mind.

His line of questioning for the Energy Secretary focused on Sage Electrochromic, a Minnesota-based window manufacturer. Senator Franken explained that the window company had received a $70 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, which you’d think would be  pleasing to the Senator. After all, a federally backed loan is a taxpayer subsidy that allows recipients to obtain better financing.

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There’s only a month left on the Senate calendar, and elections are looming, so many Senators are wary of an issue as divisive and nuanced as is cap-and-trade energy rationing. As a result, there’s been a lot of procrastinating.

Two weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid convened a meeting of Senate Committee chairs in order to figure out how to proceed with climate legislation. They agreed to punt, by having a meeting of the entire Senate the following week.

A week ago, all Democratic Senators met, and they listened to three of their colleagues pitch variations of climate/energy legislation, as well as a pep talk from Sen. Barbara Boxer (my favorite environmentalist Senator). But the pleas fell on deaf ears, and the DNP Caucus session ended inconclusively.

Following that failure, President Obama requested yet another meeting of Senate energy/climate principles and moderates from both parties. The discussion will take place today, and the guest list includes Sens. John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, Richard Lugar, Judd Gregg, Susan Collins, Sherrod Brown and Lisa Murkowski, according to a survey of offices by Energy & Environment Daily.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and elections are nearing. The punditry seems to be in consensus that the prognosis for cap-and-trade is dire, although there has been some discussion about a sinister back door strategy, by which the Senate would pass bare-bones energy bill, sans an energy tax, and then leadership would insert a cap-and-trade into the bill that is reconciled with the American Energy and Security Act, the climate legislation that the House passed last June. Evidently, proponents of this strategy are banking on the reconciliation conference to take place during the lame duck session after upcoming elections, a time when some Members of Congress would have nothing to lose, because they would have already lost.

**Update: 8:20 A.M. E&E Daily’s lede story this morning reports that President Obama has postponed the climate meeting, due to the ongoing imbroglio over the Afghan general who put his foot in his mouth. Fortunately, there’s not much further down the road the majority can kick this can, before the clock runs out on the legislative calendar.

Your host Richard Morrison teams up with collaborators Jeremy Lott and William Yeatman to bring you Episode 72 of the LibertyWeek podcast. We begin with UN climate hypocrisy in Copenhagen, presidential arm-twisting on health care and a cloudy look at government transparency. We conclude with the end of the tobacco road in Virginia and scandal of banking and nepotism in Venezuela.

Last week Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) became chairman of the Agriculture Committee, after Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the previous chair, accepted the gavel at the Health, Labor, Education and Pension Committee (vacated by the passing of Ted Kennedy).

Lincoln becomes the first female to chair this powerful committee, and her ascension to the top-spot will have a big impact on the country’s energy policy.

For almost a decade, the Senate Ag Committee has been the primary benefactor of ethanol, a fuel made from corn. Regardless whether the Ag chair was a Republican or a Democrat, the Committee, which is dominated by corn-belt politicians, showered ethanol with subsidies and give-aways-and even a Soviet-style production quota that forces consumers to use it. Government support for ethanol has been great for corn growers (they’ve seen demand increase by almost 50% since 2005), but it’s awful for livestock farmers, who have seen the cost of corn-feed skyrocket. Consumers have also been harmed, as the price of corn derivatives (meat, dairy, soda, etc., etc.,) has increased so sharply that inflation of the cost of food doubled the historical rate in 2008.

With Lincoln taking the gavel of the Ag Committee, however, the ethanol gravy train might be coming to an end. That’s because Lincoln doesn’t represent the corn-belt. To be sure, they grow corn in Arkansas, primarily in the eastern part of the state. But in western Arkansas, farmers raise chickens. In fact, the Natural State is the nation’s #2 producer of broiler chickens. America’s ethanol policy has seriously compromised the chicken industry, so we can expect Lincoln to take a more conservative approach with fuels made out of food.

Lincoln is also likely to affect the climate debate. The Ag Committee has some jurisdiction over climate change legislation, and Lincoln’s vote on cap-and-trade is a priority for her caucus leadership, which is having a tough time finding support for a climate bill among Senate Democrats. But Arkansas politics are decidedly unfavorable to global warming alarmism. Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Arkansas), who represents Little Rock and much of Pulaski County, was the only member of his State’s delegation to vote for the American Clean Energy and Security Act, cap-and-trade legislation that passed through the House of Representatives in late June, and he has been hammered over the airwaves by utilities, agriculture interests, and political opponents ever since. Now, there is considerable speculation that his seat is in jeopardy-all thanks to his vote for a cap-and-trade. No doubt Lincoln has noticed Snyder’s plight.