House Republicans released proposed legislation last week, H.R. 2846, the American Energy Act, calling for a hundred new nuclear power plants to be built in the next two decades, increased production of oil and gas offshore, fast-track refinery construction, and a trust fund using oil and gas royalties to invest in renewable energy. Offering legislation they say is a better alternative than the Democrats’ H.R. 2454, the GOP proposal would not cap greenhouse gas emissions or require that utilities include renewable energy sources in their generation mix. It does propose significant narrowing of alternatives analyses under NEPA and limits on litigation against projects.
Most of the provisions are familiar, repurposed from the “Drill Here! Drill Now!” campaign Republicans ran during last summer’s presidential campaign. And, again, the core of the Republican measure then and now is a title that would dramatically expand oil and gas drilling offshore. But, tellingly, the rollout of the bill barely mentions the words “drill” or “oil” and in what one suspects is a sign of focus-group message-testing, the presumed oil patch in Alaska formerly known as ANWR is referenced only as the “Arctic Coastal Plain.” Look for additional new euphemisms coming soon to a political theater near you.
In many respects, the Republicans cast their energy message using phrases and talking points ripped from the Democratic playbook, with Energy & Commerce Committee Ranking Member Joe Barton, Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana stressing the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change.
With the shift in message to a posture that presumes the need to reduce GHG emissions somehow, House Republicans appear to be positioning themselves to advance a key plank of their energy platform: nuclear power. The GOP rollout drew particular attention to the provision of H.R. 2846 that calls for bringing 100 new “no emissions” nuclear reactors online in the next 20 years and resumption of construction of a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
The House GOP bill, though it gives a nod to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, departs fully from the Democrats’ premise that emission reductions need to be mandated. The Republican bill contains neither a carbon cap nor a renewable energy standard for electric utilities. The bill would set up a fund for renewable energy research to be sustained by royalty payments from new drilling offshore and in the Arctic Coastal Plain.
One Capitol Hill publication reported that House Republicans were planning to resurrect last year’s gas price protests as part of their legislative campaign. According to the report in Thursday’s edition of The Hill: “Amid rising gas prices, Republican leaders are considering another energy protest on the House floor this summer. GOP conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), who was instrumental in spearheading the 2008 energy protest, told The Hill on Thursday that all options are on the table. Pence said, ‘As gasoline prices rise, we are going to use every means at our disposal to make our case for more domestic exploration, more nuclear power and more conservation and more renewables to the American people.’” Full story here.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Congressman Ed Markey, Chairman Waxman’s chief lieutenant on climate and energy legislation dismissed the Republican proposal, calling it “a re-hash of failed energy policies.” According to the two Democratic leaders’ statement: “After years of gas price increases, rising temperatures, dangerous dependence on foreign oil, and a loss of jobs to clean energy competitors in China, Germany and elsewhere, the Republican plan is to . . . continue business as usual.”
In keeping with the unusual spirit of the times, we note that West Virginia last week elevated coal to the status of official State Rock and the oil and gas industry dispatched a fleet of female advocates to Capitol Hill, perhaps signaling an alliance with President Obama in his efforts to marginalize K Street’s armies of hired-gun (and largely male) lobbyists.