Thursday, September 11, 2008

Latest word on the House's evolving energy bill

Gene Green (D-Tex.) said last night that House Democrats are close to finishing the comprehensive energy bill they've been working on, and that it should come to a vote on Tuesday. "It's still a work in progress," he told me.

But it contains a provision to open more of the Outer Continental Shelf to leasing, he continued. "That's the success. It probably will be the biggest opening in history. It will cover all coastal states. There will be no drilling between 0 and 50 miles. Between 50 and 100, the states would have to opt in. Over 100 miles, it would be federal," Green said.

He said that the proposal could open hundreds of millions of additional acres, compared with 50 million acres off Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia in the Senate's compromise proposal and 25 million acres in the eastern Gulf of Mexico in the proposal developed by the House working group led by Reps. John E. Peterson (R-Pa.) and Neil Abercrombie (D-Ha.).

The bill contains carbon capture and sequestration language which House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) sought. It does not specifically address Section 526 of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (banning government contracts for fuels that produce more carbon emission than conventional sources) or the oil shale moratorium, although giving the states with oil shale deposits on federal lands a choice in the matter was discussed. "Utah would like to see it happen. Colorado would not," Green said.

House Democrats would like to provide $16-18 billion for renewable and alternative energy technology research and development and for the emergency heating assistance fund for low-income families and individuals, but they haven't settled on how to pay for it, he continued.

But he suggested that the OCS approach looks pretty certain. "For a Democratic Congress to be passing this is impressive. This time, it could be hundreds of millions of acres. By the time we get back Monday and look at the final bill, we'll have talked to our constituents. I also hope to pick up some Republican support," Green said.

Friday, September 5, 2008

They're rested, and rarin' to go

Has there ever been a better time to launch a Washington energy blog? I don't think so. The Democrats and Republicans have completed their 2008 conventions, with John McCain pulling the biggest surprise in choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate. Commentators have been dwelling on her lack of foreign policy experience compared to her opponent, Joe Biden, but if the GOP successfully makes energy the major presidential campaign issue, she could be a very effective participant.

Congressional Republicans already have seized it as their main issue. Some GOP House members even stayed in Washington this past week to continue speaking in the Capitol in open defiance of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) refusing to bring greater OCS access to a vote before pushing through a recess motion, normally a routine matter, by a one-vote margin.

There will be plenty of rhetoric on the presidential and congressional campaign trail. The most intriguing question will be whether groups pushing compromise bills in the Senate and House can end the partisan deadlock that has thwarted not only efforts to increase OCS access but also to extend tax credits for renewable and alternative energy technology research and development.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), one of the architects of the main compromise proposal on that side of the Capitol, said on Sept. 3 that he hopes the bipartisan bill will come to a vote "within the next several weeks" and that he has spoken with Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) about it. Reid agreed to the group's request for a day-long energy issues forum and asked Energy and Natural Resource Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to run it.

On the House side, Pelosi has been less emphatic in her refusals to bring OCS leasing to a vote. Members backing proposed compromises there, some of whom hold significant posts on committees which would handle a bill, have been quiet since announcing their plans on July 31 and Aug. 1.

Democrats may feel a little less pressure because crude oil, gasoline and diesel fuel prices are down from their mid-July peaks. But they also haven't passed many significant appropriations bills because they didn't want Republicans to try to attach OCS leasing amendments. Agreeing to discuss the compromise proposals and try to bring them to a vote could help them win necessary Republican support in passing those appropriations or a continuing resolution. Otherwise, the government could shut down as it did briefly in 1995. Only this time, it would be during the final weeks of an election campaign and there is no guarantee how voters would react, especially if congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle simply blame the other side for being too pig-headed.

Add the forthcoming report from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission on oil market speculation and the uproar from Interior Secretary Dirk A. Kempthorne's proposals to rewrite the Endangered Species Act, and it promises to be a lively, exciting and unpredictable fall here in Washington. How does it look out there in the real world?