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Clean Energy Standard, Blocking EPA Carbon Regulation on Pollution-State Senators’ Agenda

The best hope for success in the 112th Congress is stasis, a kind of gridlock that doesn’t make things appreciably worse. Millions of unemployed Americans across the country would rather that government worked at giving them opportunities for jobs, but the incoming Republican House just isn’t interested in doing that.

One area where stasis would be fine compared to the alternative is in energy, where the emerging deal that a bipartisan group of Senators would like to pass includes blocking the EPA from doing its job:

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) believes the new Congress will be “much more likely” to approve his legislation that would halt looming Environmental Protection Agency climate change rules.

Rockefeller wants to delay rules – which will begin phasing-in next month – to curb emissions from power plants, refineries and other industrial plants, but never got a vote on his measure this year.

“The House will be that way and the Senate will be more inclined to be that way,” Rockefeller told The Hill in the Capitol Saturday, a reference to gains by GOP lawmakers hostile to climate rules. Rockefeller plans to immediately reintroduce the bill when the new Congress starts, he said.

Rockefeller helpfully added that he doesn’t want to abolish the EPA, as some Tea Party types do. Well that’s comforting.

His partner on this bill is Lisa Murkowski, and given the other energy-related measure she’s pushing for in the next Congress, I could see a bad deal traded for a separate bad deal:

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Saturday that a “clean” energy standard for electric utilities could gain traction among Republicans in the next Congress even though it would create a new federal mandate.

Murkowski, the top GOP member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the standard should allow wide discretion for states and regions, which would help build support.

“I think there is a level of flexibility that allows you to achieve the goal of reduced [greenhouse gas] emissions, but gives you the ability to determine what it is you are going to do and how you are going to do it. I don’t think that is a mandate that scares people away,” she told The Hill in the Capitol. “I think you can have a pretty good conversation.”
The Alaska Republican is among the lawmakers backing the idea of requiring the nation’s utilities to supply escalating amounts of power from low-carbon sources like new nuclear power plants, renewables, and coal plants if they can trap emissions (a technology that’s not yet commercialized).

A “clean energy standard” basically would mandate some percentage of electricity to come from sources of energy deemed clean, and in addition to solar and wind and geothermal and tidal, that would include, under this definition, nuclear and so-called “clean coal.”

Democratic lawmakers and a lot of energy industry types have wanted a renewable energy standard for some time, and if they have to accept a clean energy standard to get passage, I could see it happening. But the additional price could be a virtual shutdown of the EPA’s carbon regulation work. That would be a tragic mistake.

Because the Administration has spent a lot of time consolidating executive power in the first two years, I could see them fighting pretty darn hard to have the EPA maintain its priorities. They would welcome gridlock, too.

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David Dayen

David Dayen