With the Flurry of Energy Politicking, Watch This Bill

By August 5, 2008Energy

Almost too much speechifying, positioning, flanking and flacking going on in the world of energy supply to keep track of….

The House Republicans came up with a clever — and to Democrats, infuriating — stunt last Friday, staying on the floor of the House after adjournment to agitate for more energy supply. Such a good PR move and political energizer of the base, they’ve kept it up this week (at the risk of beating it into the ground).  Basic point: America needs more domestic energy supply, the public supports it, and Congress shouldn’t dodge a vote.  Agreed. (CNN story. National Review coverage by Mark Hemingway.)

Politico profiles the congressional energy politicking in this piece, “Pelosi: At-risk Dems back drilling.” 

California Democrat Nancy Pelosi may be trying to save the planet — but the rank and file in her party increasingly are just trying to save their political hides when it comes to gas prices as Republicans apply more and more rhetorical muscle.

But what looks like intraparty tension on the surface is part of an intentional strategy in which Pelosi takes the heat on energy policy, while behind the scenes she’s encouraging vulnerable Democrats to express their independence if it helps them politically, according to Democratic aides on and off Capitol Hill.

Pelosi’s gambit rests on one big assumption: that Democrats will own Washington after the election and will be able to craft a sweeping energy policy that is heavy on conservation and fuel alternatives while allowing for some new oil drilling. Democrats see no need to make major concessions on energy policy with a party poised to lose seats in both chambers in just three months — even if recess-averse Republicans continue to pound away on the issue.

Well, it’s a strategy.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan “Gang of 10” in the Senate is pushing a plan to allow oil and natural gas drilling in additional portions of the Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic coast, paired with rebates and tax incentives financed by a windfall profits tax on oil companies. Like Jimmy Carter’s windfall profits tax that decreased production, made the U.S. more reliant on foreign oil and failed to produce the projected revenue? Which makes the bill more attractive?

The most realistic plan we saw last week, the one shaped more by economic considerations than political ones, came from Reps. John Peterson (R-PA) and Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) — two longstanding leaders on the issue of increased domestic energy supply. The National Conservation, Environment, and Energy Security Act — H.R. 6709 — would allow drilling on expanded areas of the Outer Continental Shelf and encourage development of U.S. oil shale. States would get a share (30 percent) of the revenues from increased production, with other allocations going to conservation, alternative fuels and low-income energy assistance. (Abercrombie’s website has a good summary.) As of today, the bill has 119 cosponsors — that’s no gang, that’s a significant number of energy-supporting members of Congress from both parties.

As NAM President John Engler said:

Reps. Abercrombie and Peterson and their colleagues on both sides of the aisle have demonstrated their commitment to increasing domestic energy supply and lowering America’s energy bill with today’s proposal.  They recognize the contribution that development of 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas on the OCS — which is enough natural gas to heat 100 million American homes for 60 years — will make toward energy independence and economic growth.

Trade associations like the NAM are, of course, attuned to the politics of the energy issue, but the basic priority around here is always going to be what works, what’s most effective. And in the current debate about energy policy, the Peterson-Abercrombie bill stands out because it will work.

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