Dems may push lame-duck energy bill

Cap and trade may be dead, but a proposal for wind and solar energy mandates is making a comeback in Congress.

Lawmakers retreated to their districts in August having failed to consider an energy reform measure. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced he may try to pass a bill requiring the use of renewable energy sources after the midterm elections are over.

Republicans and Democrats alike say the Senate could find support for a federal renewable energy standard in a so-called lame-duck session of Congress. Environmental advocates are pushing for it, and are calculating which lawmakers might vote for it once the risk of voter disapproval had passed.

Reid has two GOP senators in mind, but won't name them.

“Maybe, after the elections, we can get some more Republicans to help us,” Reid said Tuesday.

Reid, however, would need more than just a couple of Republicans to pass a renewable energy standard, which would almost certainly raise electricity prices, particularly in the Southeast where wind and solar power is scarce.

Senate Democrats control 59 votes, just one shy of the 60 needed to beat back a GOP filibuster, but several moderate Democrats are opposed to a renewable energy standard, including Sen. Ben Nelson, of Nebraska, outgoing Sen. Evan Bayh, of Indiana, and Sen. Blanche Lincoln, of Arkansas, who is up for re-election this year and is trailing significantly in the polls.

Senate aides and energy reform advocates calculate Reid would need four Republicans in a post-election vote on a renewable energy standard, in order to compensate for disapproving Democrats.

“Members in general are very reticent to undertake policy changes that are going to raise costs for consumers,” said Matt LeTourneau, spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Energy Institute.

But Democrats such as Lincoln may be more inclined to back a renewable energy standard if they fail to win re-election and want a job in the administration. Democrats may also feel pressured to pass the measure in the closing days of Congress if their party is facing a much less favorable congressional makeup in January, as pollsters are predicting.

“This may be their last shot at getting a renewable energy standard,” said Nick Loris, of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. “There is going to be a discussion of it.”

Senate Democrats in August failed to pass oil spill legislation aimed at improving drilling safety and ensuring oil companies cover the cost of spills. Reid may now attach a renewable energy standard provision to this bill and lure in Democrats such as Mary Landrieu, D-La., with language she is seeking that would protect smaller oil companies from a proposed higher liability cap.

As for Republican support, Reid could tap into the four GOP senators who voted for a bill in committee that called for energy companies to acquire 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2021.

Among them are Sens. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, who just lost her primary, and Sam Brownback, of Kansas, whose wind-producing state would benefit from a renewable energy mandate.

“Sen. Brownback does support a reasonable renewable energy standard, but will have to see the overall legislation before he decides what he will or will not vote for,” his spokesman, Brian Hart, told The Washington Examiner.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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