Reid Pulls the Plug on Modest Energy Bill

Having already set aside comprehensive energy and climate legislation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today pulled the plug on the more modest energy bill that was to address the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and set a few new energy standards.

"It’s a sad day when you can’t find a handful of Republicans to support a bill," Reid told reporters.

From The Hill:

Reid had planned to debate and vote on competing Democratic and Republican spill plans Wednesday but he said "it's clear Republicans were going to be determined to stand in the way of everything."

Reid promised that, "in the interim, we will continue to work for Republican votes."

"We are going to continue to listen to people during the August recess," Reid said, "and we are going to continue fighting for energy legislation before we leave this Congress."

He said it will be easier to do so after the summer break "because we’ve had some very good conversations."

"I think before the end of the year, the answer is absolutely yes" that energy legislation will be passed.

The GOP spin:

Robert Dillon, spokesman for Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), pointed out that Reid did not even have all the members of the Democratic caucus standing behind his effort - and that was the reason he had to pull it.

"The reason Sen. Reid pulled the bill is because his own members were set to vote against it and for the Republican bill," Dillon noted in an email. "We believe our bill is better and less costly. Instead of playing the blame game, Democratic leaders should allow an open and transparent process where both sides can contribute ideas."

The reality:

The decision to abandon the legislation comes amid concerns among some Democrats that the energy provisions — which focus on home efficiency retrofits and natural gas-powered and electric vehicles — were too modest.

"I think there was substantial concern on the Democratic side that the energy bill did not do enough," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

 And so it goes. Senator Reid will attempt to steer passage of an energy bill in some form after the Congress returns from its August recess.

Van Jones: "Nobody Should Pollute for Free"

Van Jones, the noted environmentalist who was hounded out of the Obama Administration by Glenn Beck and Fox News, spoke last month at the Commonwealth Club of California here in San Francisco. In his speech, he called for a "serious climate and energy bill" to stop companies from dumping "planet-cooking pollution" into the atmosphere. "If you take away that right to pollute for free," says Jones, "you send a signal to the only force in the world that can solve this problem - the entrepreneur."

He also described how the third wave of environmentalism -- the investment wave -- could solve inequality and catastrophe with a "Green New Deal" mindset.  The Commonwealth Club awarded Van Jones a 21st Century Visionary Award for guiding the nation to ecological equality.

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Quick Hits

Some other items making news today.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday ordered mandatory furloughs for thousands of state workers until California passes a budget that addresses a $19 billion deficit. Schwarzenegger released a new executive order requiring state workers to take three unpaid days off per month starting in August. State workers were furloughed a total of 46 days when Schwarzenegger issued a similar order in February 2009, which translated to a pay cut of about 14 percent. There is actually a chance that Schwarzenegger may leave office without signing a budget. More from the Associated Press.

Scientists have also released what they described as the "best evidence yet" of rising long-term temperatures. The report is the first to collate 11 different indicators – from air and sea temperatures to melting ice – each one based on between three and seven data sets, dating back to between 1850 and the 1970s. The story in The Guardian. If you wish to look at the report from the NOAA, the link is here.

In response to latest scientific research that yet again shows a warming planet, Jeffrey Sachs calls on President Obama to "lay out a comprehensive and costed plan to the American people showing how he will move beyond oil." While not addressing the latest findings directly, the President did note on Tuesday he still supports the need for broad climate-change legislation and pledged to keep pushing for it. That story from the Los Angeles Times.

The Hill reports that the Senate Democrats do not have the votes to lower the 60-vote threshold to cut off filibusters.

Under pressure to find new revenues sources, Congress is reconsidering legalizing, and taxing, Internet gambling. The full story from the New York Times.

A Failure of Government

The Senate Democratic leadership have decided to not move forward on a comprehensive energy and climate legislative bill after failing to gain any support from the GOP. It's a failure of government and one with tremendous consequences for life as we know it on this planet. While the bill failed to gain any Republican votes, a number of Democratic lawmakers from manufacturing and coal-producing states were expected to oppose the energy and climate bill.

Instead, Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid intends to move forward next week on a bipartisan energy-only bill that responds to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and contains other more popular energy items. The bill headed to the floor will not include a carbon cap or a renewable electricity standard but will contain provisions dealing with the oil spill, Home Star energy efficiency upgrades, incentives for the conversion of trucking fleet to natural gas and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The story in the New York Times:

After a meeting of Senate Democrats, party leaders on Thursday said they had abandoned hope of passing a comprehensive energy bill this summer and would pursue a more limited measure focused primarily on responding the Gulf oil spill and including some tightening of energy efficiency standards.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a champion of comprehensive climate change legislation called the new goal “admittedly narrow.”

At a news conference, the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, blamed Republicans for refusing to cooperate. “We don’t have a single Republican to work with us,” Mr. Reid said.

Democrats said they would continue to pursue broader climate change legislation.

“This is not the only energy legislation we are going to do,” Mr. Reid said. “This is what we can do now.”

Senate Democrats had already scaled back their plans to pursue limits on greenhouse gas emissions, like those in a bill approved by the House last year. Instead, the Senate Democrats had said they would seek a cap on carbon emissions only for power plants. But even that proved overly ambitious.

Even before the proverbial plug was pulled on the energy and climate bill, Timothy Egan of the New York Times had a smart column with choice words for the most dangerous man on the planet today, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

Last month was the hottest June ever recorded worldwide, and 2010 is on course to be the warmest year since record-keeping began, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In Senator Inhofe’s home state of Oklahoma, the National Weather Service issued a warning this week of “dangerous heat index values” of up to 110 degrees. A report from AccuWeather.com last month stated that, this year, “no other region has seen the variety of extreme weather” as much as Oklahoma.

Extreme weather. Perfect for an extreme politician, a man who won his senate seat in 1994 by using, as his slogan, the actual words of a cynical strategy to get people to think about anything but real issues: “God, guns, and gays.” Maybe, with this weather, God is trying to tell the senator something.

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Spruce 1

Mountain top removal is a form of coal mining that is design to remove the coal miner from coal mining and enhance profits. It is a Sabine rape of the environment and its costs are inter-generational. Repairing the damage done will take thousands of years.

The New York Times reports that the Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to veto mountaintop mining above a little Appalachian valley called Pigeonroost Hollow located in West Virginia near the Kentucky border.

The Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit in 2007 to blast 400 feet off the hilltops here to expose the rich coal seams, disposing of the debris in the upper reaches of six valleys, including Pigeonroost Hollow.

But the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration, in a break with President George W. Bush’s more coal-friendly approach, has threatened to halt or sharply scale back the project known as Spruce 1. The agency asserts that the project would irrevocably damage streams and wildlife and violate the Clean Water Act.

Because it is one of the largest mountaintop mining projects ever and because it has been hotly disputed for a dozen years, Spruce 1 is seen as a bellwether by conservation groups and the coal industry.

The fate of the project could also have national reverberations, affecting Democratic Party prospects in coal states. While extensive research and public hearings on the plan have been completed, federal officials said that their final decision would not be announced until late this year — perhaps, conveniently, after the midterm elections.

Environmental groups say that approval of the project in anything like its current form would be a betrayal.

“Spruce 1 is a test of whether the E.P.A. is going to follow through with its promises,” said Bill Price, director of environmental justice with the Sierra Club in West Virginia.

“If the administration sticks to its guns,” Mr. Price predicted, “mountaintop removal is going to be severely curtailed.”

Coal companies say politics, not science, is threatening a practice vital to local economies and energy independence. “After years of study, with the company doing everything any agency asked, and three years after a permit was issued, the E.P.A. now wants to stop Spruce 1,” said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. “It’s political; the only thing that has changed is the administration.”

While the government does not collect statistics on mountaintop mining, data suggest that it may account for about 10 percent of American coal output, yielding 5 percent of the nation’s electricity. The method plays a bigger economic role in the two states where it is concentrated, Kentucky and West Virginia.

The Obama Administration often exasperates but on this it has the opportunity to restore a balance to mining practices. We urge the EPA to act and to curtail the practice. I'll say this to Bill Raney, the president of the West Virginia Coal Association: it's not about politics, it's about values and what sort of planet we leave to future generations. Mountaintop removal is simply a radical form of coal mining in which entire mountains are literally blown up. It is doing things on the cheap but the leaving the full costs to be borne by succeeding generations. It is immoral.

Alexis Madrigal, the lead technology writer for The Atlantic, reports that "in a 2009 study of Appalachian coal mining, Colorado State political scientists Charles Davis and Robert Duffy found that the Bush administration "effectively achieved his energy production goals by combining the use of discretionary authority with staff controls, executive orders, and regulatory initiatives to lessen industry compliance costs with environmental regulatory requirements."

You can learn more about the practices of mountaintop removal mining and its impact on the communities it affects at I Love Mountains and Appalachian Voices.

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