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Clean Energy Standard Would Redefine Renewable Energy to Include Nuclear, Clean Coal

You know that energy policy is not going to be as friendly to environmental interests in the new Congress when the Democrat being tapped to lead a coalition is from Alaska.

Is a 2011 Senate coalition on energy starting to take shape?

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said he called Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) late last week after learning that the South Carolina Republican wants to be a player again on energy in the next Congress.

The freshman Begich says he, too, wants to be in the thick of talks aimed at crafting a long-term U.S. energy policy – a politically tricky and elusive task.

“That is what I am going to be pushing hard for,” Begich said in the Capitol Monday. “I will continue reach over the aisle with other Republicans who are interested also, as Lindsey Graham has indicated he is, and figure out where there is some opportunity.”

I can hear the phrase “We have to drill in ANWR as part of a comprehensive solution” now…

I actually don’t see much moving on energy even with a Begich-Graham coalition; 59 Democratic Senators couldn’t get much of anything done in the 111th Congress. One area that has had some bipartisan interest is a renewable energy standard, and at one point there was even hope that the lame duck session would see passage. But Republicans have been defining renewable down, and now the Democratic chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee seems to agree with them.

A leading Democrat on energy policy signaled Monday that he’s open to a “clean” energy standard for utilities — a GOP-backed proposal that’s favorable to new nuclear plants and low-emissions coal projects.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has long championed a renewable electricity standard that would require utilities to supply escalating amounts of power from sources like wind and solar.

Bingaman said in the Capitol Monday that he’d look at a wider standard that includes non-renewable forms of energy — but only if it doesn’t crowd out the renewables.

“If you can design a so-called clean energy standard that still provided incentives to pursue renewable electricity … then it is certainly worth looking at,” he said.

I don’t see how it wouldn’t crowd out renewables. Would Bingaman set up a renewable energy standard INSIDE the clean energy standard? Somehow I think that wouldn’t fly. Therefore, a clean energy standard would only set up a market for nuclear and “low-emission coal.” If the EPA ever gets around to making its new regulations, you’re going to see a mass of coal plant closures, so there’s probably enough reason on the right to define that new market as nuclear and so-called “clean coal.” The rule-writing could define down coal so much as to make the old coal plants and new “clean energy” ones virtually indistinguishable.

And remember, this is about the BEST we can hope for in a new Congress, or rather the least actively harmful.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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