With the clock ticking down on the legislative calendar, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are jockeying to get an energy bill onto the stage that will find the required votes for passage. The goals couldn’t be more clear: enact policy that will save energy, curb greenhouse gas emissions and encourage the production of green alternatives that will reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil. In the wake of the national catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, one might think that characteristic partisan interests and knee-jerk procedural bickering might be put aside in favor of compelling national unity. Yet the legislative waters on the issue remain, for now, murky as usual.
This week, Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) introduced his energy bill titled “Practical Energy and Climate Plan.” Intended as a Republican counter to the energy bill introduced by Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) last month, the “practical” measure was quickly attacked as a failure by environmentalists and advocates of renewable energy. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which has come out with its own plan for energy legislation, excoriated the Lugar proposal as a wrong-headed half-measure, citing its failure to impose a cap on global warming pollution, its endorsement of carbon sequestration projects and its support of expansion of nuclear power plant construction.
Key Senate voice Lindsay Graham, who had helped broker the Kerry/Lieberman proposal before changing his mind last month, quickly endorsed the Lugar plan, not for what it offers, but for what it lacks: “Senator Lugar doesn’t have oil drilling. He doesn’t have ‘cap and trade,” Graham said simply.
Failure to put a cap on greenhouse gas production will mean that the Lugar bill would achieve only a 9 percent decrease in emissions from 2005 levels by 2017, far below what scientists say is needed to avoid the worst of climate change, according to the UCS.
Perhaps Senators Lugar and Graham know something that the scientists don’t; as White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told the New York Times, the president’s energy planners will likely cull ideas from each of the Senate’s proposals as it seeks an energy consensus. With the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico uppermost in everyone’s thoughts, we can pray that our legislators will show more resolve, that the energy legislation we end up with will be more than an echo of last year’s attempt at health care reform.