A cloture vote to end a Republican-led filibuster of Senator Jeff Bingaman's Renewable Energy Standard proposal expected on Tuesday; Bingaman unlikely to modify proposed 15% by 2020 standard.
The debate over a national renewable energy standard requiring utilities to obtain 15% of their electricity from homegrown, renewable energy sources by 2020 may come to a head next Tuesday.
At issue is a proposed amendment to the comprehensive energy package being debated by the Senate this week and next (see previous post). Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) has proposed an amendment that would add the 15% by 2020 standard to the energy package, HR.6, but his colleague and ranking Republican on the energy committee, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) is leading Republicans in filibustering the proposal.
Senator Domenici had offered a competing proposal that would have created a 'clean energy standard' that would have given utilities credit for nuclear power and 'clean' coal investments. That amendment was tabled (killed) yesterday by a vote of 56-39.
The opposition to the 15% by 2020 standard is being led by the Southern Company, one of the nation's largest utilities, which supplies power to customers across the Southeast. Utilities in the Southeast contend that their region lacks adequate renewable energy potential to warrant a 'one-size-fits-all' national renewable energy standard and have argued that the 15% by 2020 standard would constitute a large transfer of wealth from the Southeast to renewable energy rich regions like the Great Plains states, Texas and the Northwest. The Southern Company is a powerful lobbying force and has convinced Republican leaders, including Senator Domenici, to oppose the Bingaman amendment.
Senator Domenici has threatened to filibuster Bingaman's amendment which would require 60 votes to override in a procedural known as a 'cloture' vote.
Supporters of the Bingaman amendment consider the seven Republicans who voted to table Domenici's clean energy standard proposal to be likely supporters of a cloture vote on Bingaman's amendment. However, even if all seven swing Republicans - Senators Collins (R-ME), Grassley (R-IA), Gregg (R-NH), Smith (R-OR), Snowe (R-ME), Specter (R-PA), and Sununu (R-NH) - join all the Democrats in supporting a cloture vote, that leaves Bingaman and his supporters 2 votes shy of the 60 needed to break the filibuster.
The list of likely swing Republicans who may be convinced to support cloture also include Senators Brownback (R-KS), Coleman (R-MN), Hatch (R-UT), Lugar (R-ID), and Thune (R-SD), although all five senators voted against tabling Domenici's amendment.
Despite the uphill battle to secure the 60 votes necessary to pass the 15% by 2020 renewable energy standard, Bingaman said today he is not inclined to modify his plan to boost renewable electricity production because he would not gain any more supporters, CongressDaily reports [subscription required]. Bingaman said he has not discussed changing the substance of his amendment with Domenici.
"I think many on his side who opposed cloture, opposed allowing us a vote, really don't want any requirements imposed on utilities," Bingaman said. "I think they made that pretty clear yesterday."
Asked whether he would oppose moving the entire energy package forward if his amendment is not included, Bingaman said, "It's an important part of the bill, and it's very important to keep it in there, and we'll try to find a way to get it in there this next week."
A spokesman said Domenici would support the energy bill in its current form, but the inclusion of Bingaman's amendment "would place doubts in his mind and, more importantly, place the bill in jeopardy because we believe other senators that might support the bill would not be able to."
Bingaman said he did not know whether a cloture motion would be filed on his amendment to break the Republican filibuster, though lobbyists on both sides of the issue said that was likely. That vote would likely occur next Tuesday, when the next Senate considers HR.6, the energy package.
Fuel Efficiency Standards and Support for Coal-to-Liquids Synthetic Fuel Also Remain Contentious Issues
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on the floor today that Bingaman's amendment - along with fuel efficiency standards for cars and incentives for coal-to-liquids production - "are the three big issues" of debate adding, "There has to be some decision of finality made with regard to the pieces of the bill that are so important."
Bingaman said staff will continue this weekend working through a list of more than 100 amendments that have been filed. He said he has no plans to limit the number of amendments.
CapitalDaily reports that one of those amendments could be the result of discussions Bingaman is having with a trio of coal-state Democrats - Sens. Jon Tester of Montana, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Robert Byrd of West Virginia - on adding loan guarantees for coal-to-liquids plants that would be contingent on the level of carbon emissions that could be captured and stored.
There has been a continuing push on the part of some senators to include coal-to-liquids and gas-to-liquids as clean and alternative fuels; there is a corresponding pushback by senators who want to keep the coal option off the fuel table.
The Senate voted on Tuesday to reject a proposed amendment offered by Senator Inhofe (R-OK) that included support for coal-to-liquids and gas-to-liquids synthetic fuels. The Inhofe amendment was defeated 43-52.
Senator Barack Obama, who has been a key supporter of coal-to-liquids technology, recently back-peddled from his previous position after receiving considerable pressure from enivronmentalists and progressive grassroots groups (see previous post).
Critics of coal-to-liquids fuels point out that the alternative fuel produces roughly twice as much carbon dioxide emissions as gasoline on a lifecycle basis unless emissions at CTL plants are captured and sequestered beneath the ground. Even if sequestration is employed, an expensive process yet to be proven at commercial scales, the lifecycle greenhouse emissions of CTL fuel ranges from slightly better to moderately worse than gasoline.
The Illinois Senator and Democratic presidential candidate now says he will only support coal-to-liquids if the fuel it results in emissions at least 20% lower than gasoline.
Given strong opposition to CTL fuels from many environmentalists and progressives as well as several Democratic Senators, any proposal supporting coal-to-liquids fuels that is likely to pass the Senate would have to explicitly address
Some environmentalists and environmental justice activists remain opposed to coal-to-liquids fuels citing the environmentally destructive processes of mining and processing coal, including the large scale strip mining and mountaintop removal commonly employed in the United States coal industry.
The Senate is also expected to consider an amendment proposing weaker improvements in fuel economy standards today. The Levin-Bond Amendment — developed by Michigan Democratic Senators Levin and Stabenow and now presented with broader co-sponsorship - requires a minimum 30% 'ramp up' in fuel economy to a 36 mpg average for cars by 2022 and a 30 mpg for light trucks by 2025.
This amendment would weaken the provision currently in HR.6 which would raise combined fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks to 35 mpg by 2020, increasing 4% annually afterwards. Since light trucks currently account for roughly half of all light duty vehicle sales, this 35 mpg by 2020 standard compares to the Levin-Bond amendment's combined 33 mpg by 2025 average.
The auto industry has opposed the current 35 mpg by 2020 proposal and has rallied around the Levin-Bond amendment as a suitable alternative.
Senate Will Take Up Energy Bill Again on Tuesday
After recessing for the weekend, the Senate will take up the energy package again on Tuesday, June 19th. The debate over the renewable energy standard proposal could reach its conclusion if a cloture motion is filed.
The Senate will also consider a package of energy tax incentives the Finance Committee will mark up on Tuesday.
Senator Bingaman has said the Senate may approve the energy package next week.
The House has yet to begin debating a corresponding energy package, although some components of HR.6, the CLEAN Energy Act of 2007, were passed by the House during the 'first 100 days' push in January.
The CLEAN Energy Act, as passed by the House, shifts roughly $14 billion in oil and gas industry subsidies to fund future legislation supporting clean energy investments, including some of the provisions currently in the Senate bill. The Senate chose HR.6 as the vehicle to amend additional provisions to, creating the current comprehensive energy bill currently under debate.