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October 15, 2010

GOP Watch

October 15, 2010
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Unless you have been living under a rock lately, you are probably aware that the Republicans are poised to take over the House of Representatives and might even capture the Senate at the start of the 112th Congress. Regardless of the outcome on Election Day, one thing is clear – the GOP will have a say in shaping federal energy policy for the remainder of President Obama’s first term.

Some suggest the situation will improve if the “all-of-the-above” Republicans increase their clout in Washington. Recent developments, however, suggest that any improvements will be more modest and marginal than dramatic and helpful. It seems that some in the GOP still don’t quite understand what is happening out there in the real world—particularly among their supporters.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, the darling du jour of the fiscal conservative set, thinks it is “fully justifiable” to punish American consumers for the fiscal sins of our elected leaders with a tax on oil imports. This is probably not the best way to launch an economic recovery or a long-shot presidential primary bid.

And in spite of his tireless pursuits this past year, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham (along with Democrat Sens. Kerry and Lieberman) failed to deliver a hybrid cap-and-trade/gas tax bill known as K-G-L for his New York acquaintances. As a consolation prize for this failed bid, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has green-lighted precious floor time during the Lame Duck session for a renewable energy mandate – if proponents can show they have the sixty votes.

Enter Senator Sam Brownback.

The Kansas Republican is very busy these days, simultaneously running for governor and corralling GOP votes for the renewable mandate. Though it is slow going, he can count among his recruits Maine Senator Susan Collins, co-author of…wait for it…a carbon tax. Brownback has placed another GOP’r, Senator Chuck Grassley, in the maybe category, “if you add ethanol to it,” says the Senator from the Sunflower State.

No to be out staged, Senator Lamar Alexander is making his energy priorities for the 112th Congress clear. In a recent Politico article, Lamar says he hasn’t “come to a conclusion yet on how to deal with a cap on utilities,” but he most certainly favors the concept. In the same article, Collins restates her case for a carbon tax, while Senator Scott “41” Brown, calls Collins’ approach “a smart idea.”

And while it is a laudable policy goal, let’s not forget that – above all else – the stated purpose of Energy Committee Ranking Republican turned “write-in” Senator Lisa M-u-r-k-o-w-s-k-i’s drive to prevent the EPA from mandating greenhouse gas rules is to preserve Congress’ prerogative to regulate carbon.

At this point, many of you are probably thinking these criticisms are a bit unfair. After all, we’re mostly talking about the Senate. Surely the House Republicans will be much more reasonable.

Think again.

Congressman James Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin, who is currently the ranking Republican on something called the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, argued strongly that the Select Committee should not be dissolved in the 112th Congress (with him serving as chairman, naturally). Speaker Pelosi as payoff to her pal, Rep. Ed Markey, invented this committee. It has no legislative authority; it has no oversight jurisdiction; it duplicates the work of at least three other committees; it is “feathers on a fish,” according to Rep. John Dingell, the dean of the House. The fact that Sensenbrenner, regardless of his rationale, is unable or unwilling to look beyond his own parochial interests and call for an end to this charade of a committee is a discouraging sign.

Similarly, Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers from Washington, who as vice Chair of the Conference is a member of the House Republican leadership, recently praised the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) for issuing guidance differentiating greenhouse gas emissions originating from fossil fuels and those from biofuels (like ethanol). It might be helpful to remember that previously EPA had the temerity to note that when you include land use effects, corn-based ethanol actually results in higher greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline over its entire lifecycle.

Such a detail, it seems, could not even slow down the normally reliable McMorris Rodgers, who commended “CEQ for its decision, while also encouraging them to work with other federal agencies – especially the Environmental Protection Agency, which continues to not differentiate between biogenic emission sources and those from fossil fuels – in developing a sensible, consistent, scientifically-based policy that recognizes the carbon-neutrality of biogenic sources.”

For those who have trouble translating Washington-speak into plain English, let me provide an assist. The White House wants federal agencies to pretend that the production and use of ethanol and other biofuels do not result in increased greenhouse gas emissions, irrespective of the facts. By praising this decision, Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers has alerted CEQ that at least some Republicans will be willing accomplices in this political subterfuge.

I am sure that some will say that these are mere aberrations, but a longer sweep of time suggests otherwise. When the Republicans are in charge, energy policy does not necessarily get more rational. It was the Republicans who imposed the Executive moratorium on offshore energy and refused to lift the Congressional moratorium when they controlled Congress. It was a Republican president (guess which one) who signed the ethanol mandate into law. It was that same Republican president who showered the wind lobby with all kinds of taxpayer goodies. A Republican lawmaker was the most significant advocate for phasing out fluorescent light bulbs. And Republicans led the parade for federal price controls on gasoline.

So there you have it – a tax on oil imports, cap-and-trade, a gasoline tax, a renewable energy mandate, a carbon tax, moratoria on oil and gas exploration and production, utility price caps, price controls, and yet another ethanol mandate – all supported by members of the Grand Old Party.

The lesson, for those paying attention, is clear. When it comes to energy policy, the Republicans, while perhaps not as hazardous as their counterparts, deserve to be watched closely.

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