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Ron Wyden at a September 2012 hearing of the Senate Energy Committee
Sen. Ron Wyden will be taking the helm as chairman of the
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in January.
When Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat, takes the chairman's reins of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, there are hopes in some quarters that it will usher in an era of cooperation between the Republicans and Democrats on the committee and elsewhere. There is speculation that this could finally move the Senate and maybe even the House of Representatives off the dime on energy policy because Wyden is known, and sometimes criticized, for his hands-across-the-aisle approach to governance. The senator himself speaks of the need to review energy policy in light of of the burgeoning shale oil and gas industry. He speaks of a "transformative energy policy."

That the first major piece of energy legislation since 2007 might emerge from gridlock with Wyden at the helm is partly based on what seems to be mutual admiration between him and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican member of the committee. That was evident at a CQ Roll Call event last Thursday:

“I think it is because of the nature of Sen. Wyden’s leadership and his style and my desire to work a deal,” Murkowski said. “The benefit that we have is we’re both kind of coming at this from the approach of let’s make some things happen here instead of focusing and getting all twisted around in those areas where we disagree.”

Wyden was hopeful in an interview last week. “I’m very upbeat about the prospects of bringing people together just based on the conversations I’ve had with senators on and off the committee,” he said.

Wyden toured Alaskan energy sites with Murkowski in August and came away saying what he would later say after his October tour of Louisiana energy sites with Sen. Mary Landrieu: "we can’t rely on a one-size-fits-all energy policy.”

What precisely a comprehensive energy package might look like wasn't apparent from the vague good-feelings talk at the meeting. Wyden is concerned about U.S. fossil-fuel exports, partly for reasons of "energy independence" and partly because of carbon dioxide emissions, two issues that conflict with one another. He also seems dead set against a carbon tax, a matter that has divided Democrats and Republicans, although any support from the GOP for such a levy is dependent on its being to offset income taxes. At any rate, given that the White House is also reluctant on this score, a carbon tax seems out of the question.

For more than a year, Murkowski has been working on a blueprint for a new policy that she will probably not unveil until January. The plan is likely to be some mix of what we've been hearing for a long time from nearly everyone but environmental advocates: an "all-of-the-above" energy policy, the kind that puts smiles on the faces of fossil-fuel heavy states and provides some money and some lip service to renewable sources. It's not hard to figure out what Murkowski means when she says we need to "streamline" environmental regulations.

Included is likely to be measures to increase oil and gas production, more directives on energy efficiency, an upgrade of the transmission grid, and possibly renewal of tax incentives for the wind, solar and geothermal industries. The key incentive, the production tax credit, expires Dec. 31. That has already cost thousands of jobs in the wind industry as investors shy away from new projects.

The last major piece of federal energy legislation was passed in 2007. It focused on developing biofuels, automobile fuel efficiency and energy efficiency in lighting and public buildings. But the House, then in Democratic hands, passed a bill that included a renewable portfolio standard which would have required utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources and would fund renewable energy development with revenue from repealing $21 billion of tax breaks for oil and gas companies. The Senate wouldn't go along. Among the foes was Landrieu.

The 2007 legislation was passed before hydraulic fracking had created the boom in the production of gas and oil from shale rock. Partly as a result, a report from the International Energy Agency last week said the United States will be the largest producer of oil in the world by 2020 and a net exporter by 2030. The boom has already produced about 1.7 million jobs, according to IHS Global, with the possibility of three million by 2030.

For a nation that spends tens of billions of defense dollars each year to protect access to foreign oil, energy "independence" might sound like a good thing. Just one problem: Burning all that oil and gas, even though they produce far fewer carbon emissions that burning coal, pushes the world ever closer to the day when it passes the threshold for increasing average global temperatures past 2° C. Any energy policy that treats that as some tangential factor is reckless myopia.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 10:34 AM PST.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS, DK GreenRoots, and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The inability to address carbon based energy: (18+ / 0-)

    Is a direct consequence of giving in to the special interests of people getting rich off the status quo - oil companies and other carbon based suppliers.

    If we reconized that climate change was hurting real people, right now and proclaimed a national "go to the moon" like goal of establishing renewables, in which the entire populace benefits from increased jobs, national security and climate change slow downs . . . well, we could maybe get somewhere.

    Blessed are the peacemakers, the poor, the meek and the sick. Message to Repug Fundies: "DO you really wonder "what would Jesus do?" I didn't think so.

    by 4CasandChlo on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 10:45:06 AM PST

  •  NY Dem (12+ / 0-)
    When Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat, ...
    Wyden is now more of a New York Democrat than an Oregon Democrat. His wife and their children live in NYC. Sure he's the elected senator for Oregon, but so was Lugar, who lives in Virginia, the Senator from Indiana.

    Frankly, after his Medicare "plan" with Rep. Paul Ryan, I don't trust him and frankly I hope a better Democrat runs against him in the primary.

  •  Total inability of the Republicans (9+ / 0-)

    to admit the problem exists, and total inability of the Democrats to admit that time has run out.  Not a good combination.

  •  Nice piece ... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tapu dali, Words In Action, DawnN

    if only Merkley would have chair ... but, writ large, Wyden might be a move forward.


    Burning all that oil and gas, even though they produce far fewer carbon emissions that burning coal, pushes the world ever closer to the day when it passes the threshold for increasing average global temperatures past 2° F. Any energy policy that treats that as some tangential factor is reckless myopia.
    Don't you mean "that doesn't treat this as a tangible factor"?

    Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart NOW! for a sustainable energy future.

    by A Siegel on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 01:14:46 PM PST

  •  An all of the above strategy, championed by... (6+ / 0-)

    T Boone Pickens, simply means you'll get to have solar panels on your roof when your ground floor starts flooding. There's simply no way to consume all that fossil fuel without making this a significantly less livable planet for us. The coasts will move inland, the droughts will expand, and the storms will simply continue to destroy.

    But boy will it feel good to talk about those wind turbines!

    "The Democratic Party is not our friend: it is the only party we can negotiate with."

    by 2020adam on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 02:00:42 PM PST

  •  Absent a reverse index carbon tax (meaning (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    play jurist

    one with a subsidy provided to individuals keyed to their income tax rate), I still believe a cap and trade system is the only mechanism that has any chance of making a dent in climate warming.  Wyden's hands-across-the-aisle approach has NOTHING to do with confronting global warming and everything to do with spending government money into existing carbon-based energy with a token thrown to renewable energy sources.  This might have made some sense for global warming 20 or 30 years ago, but today it truly is putting lipstick on a pig.

  •  World Bank report recently published (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    (Sorry on handheld, no link feature) says a 7 deg F world is inevitable. Too little, too late.

    Obama's comments on CC shows he has NO interest in addressing it.

    I know you believe you understood what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. -- S.I. Hayakawa

    by tapu dali on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 06:58:19 PM PST

  •  Oy. This made me (3+ / 0-)

    want to reach for Pepcid AC and I've never had reflux.

  •  I suspect that (7+ / 0-)

    Wyden will disappoint most of us. He'll probably talk a good game though.

  •  Energy independence REQUIRES indepence (7+ / 0-)

    from fossil fuels.  Coal, oil, gas, and gasoline are ALL subject to global markets, so whether we produce more or not, our prices are dependent on what is going on in China, Venezuela, Iran and Saudi.  

    Energy independence = renewable electricity sources and a conversion to alternative transportation modes.

    Full stop.  

    Anyone who advocates for fossil fuels is advocating for more power for Iran. EOM.

    This has been a golden age for confirmation bias. - David Brooks

    by Mindful Nature on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 07:07:05 PM PST

  •  Lisa Murkowski should have given up on the GOP... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DJ Rix

    ...when she had the chance.  She personally experienced the daggers.

    She's from Caribou Barbie-land.  Of course her views and proposals are going to reflect the hold that "big oil" has over Alaska, but...

    There's always a "but".  I have to believe that Alaskans appreciate the relative pristine nature of their environment as much as we tourists.  She has a very tough energy needle to thread, and it would have been easier to thread in the Dem caucus.  Old habits die hard.

    "Mitt who? That's an odd name. Like an oven mitt, you mean? Oh, yeah, I've got one of those. Used it at the Atlas Society BBQ last summer when I was flipping ribs."

    by Richard Cranium on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 07:07:12 PM PST

  •  o/t in that pic he appears to have shoulder-length (0+ / 0-)

    hair... very bizarre optical illusion.

  •  maybe a wedge for conservation (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Lisa M is from a state that has natural gas (stranded - not being sold, with no pipeline or terminal to move it) and petroleum reserves.  Yes, the governor thinks production can be increased.

    But, she is also from a state where home heating costs are extremely high (especially when folks need to fly fuel oil in, because of riverbank erosion or early ice).  

    There are small scale wind and geothermal projects that need replication and scaling up.

    So, I'm thinking that if we can get items like that in the bill, Sen Murkowski might support more conservation and alternative sources than we might think.

    "If I’m wanting what I don’t have, I’ve got to do what I ain’t done” from the song “First Light. by Grant Dermody 2010

    by RosyFinch on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 07:23:36 PM PST

  •  When I went to school in geology, oil shale was (0+ / 0-)

    pretty much the laughing stock of energy production. We didn't even discuss oil sands at the time. At least not that I remember.

    It seemed patently absurd to pursue oil shale.

    Now I look at the situation and conclude, yes, it's laughable but in a completely different way.

    Yes, our energy policies are laughable. I worry that any cooperation between Wyden/Murkowski will result in everything we DON'T want and nothing or little we do want.

    Maybe I'm entirely wrong, but I cannot imagine energy policy getting BETTER with anti-science, anti-environmental wingers in the mix. It wasn't this bad in 2007.

    I'm not sure we SHOULD pursue an energy policy at this point.

    202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

    by cany on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 07:32:33 PM PST

    •  Oil shale or shale oil? n/t (0+ / 0-)

      Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

      by Meteor Blades on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 10:05:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Because of high extraction costs? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I've been making this argument for more than a year.

      "Energy independence" is the industry's big lie. Because of their high extraction costs these resources are strictly economically dependent on high prices in global crude markets. I.e. Shell (etc.) only takes its narrow margins on Canadian tar sands or Dakota shale oil if it still makes bigger margins on its contracts with OPEC nations.

      Passive renunciation is not the whole of wisdom.

      by play jurist on Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 01:54:52 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not just the cost, but the energy spent doing it (0+ / 0-)

        and the environmental damage with this and most certainly with gas fracking. It's such a Neanderthal approach, isn't it?

        202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

        by cany on Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 02:47:02 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I like "all of the above" (0+ / 0-)

    Well, most of the above, which is Obama's current policy. It includes CO2 recovery from industrial plants and then injection of CO2 into depleted oil fields, which sequesters millions of tons of CO2, and yields domestically-produced oil with minimal carbon emissions.

    It includes support for the largest wind, geothermal, and solar plants ever built.

    It included billions of dollars for upgrades to public buildings that slashed their energy usage.

    It encompasses production of a variety of biofuels, ranging from the zany to the prosaic, hopefully some of it will pan out.

    Folks that want to primary Wyden should have stopped smoking a couple of bowls ago.

  •  All of the above is what voters will tolerate (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    6412093, DJ Rix

    Outlawing fossil fuels isn't going to happen any time soon because we haven't made the case. This site is full of people who write, read, and take to heart scientific papers. Most voters do the same even the more informed ones.

    I still believe we have to speak to people's jobs to get through to them. If we do not put it in terms of their immediate monetary interests, then most will just wait until we confirm it's too late.

    How we currently approach the issue of climate isn't working fast enough for my liking. I'm tired of waiting on self-interested politicians to deliver selfless results. We have to learn to speak directly to workers in the industry and then to the larger population.

    Coal miners do not like blowing the tops off of mountains or breathing in coal dust. If we can demonstrate a better quality of life for them, or even how they can make money, then they will help us change D.C.

    Otherwise, they'll side with and vote for the guys who are protecting their bosses and their jobs every time.

    "There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.".. Buddha

    by sebastianguy99 on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 08:42:15 PM PST

  •  1.7 million jobs from the fracking industry (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DJ Rix

    at an enormous cost to the environment: 200,000 fracking wells drilled in 10 years.

    There will be conservation of fossil fuels in the near future. What government will not propose climate change and economics will impose.

    From the Post Carbon Institute

    There are many things we must do to transition away from oil, coal and natural gas, but the most important are these: Reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. Use what fossil fuels we have more efficiently. Develop renewable energy sources and technologies. Decentralize energy production so that communities can power themselves from local energy sources.

    ❧To thine ownself be true

    by Agathena on Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 01:00:06 AM PST

  •  Tar Sands Blockade. (0+ / 0-)

    It is the essential action of our time. The clock is ticking. We can't wait for corrupt politicians to hear the alarm.

    Passive renunciation is not the whole of wisdom.

    by play jurist on Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 01:48:08 AM PST

  •  Good greif Ron (0+ / 0-)

    Did you learn nothing from your getting stabbed in the back by Paul Ryan?


    Mitch Gore

    Want to end too big to fail banks? Then move your money and they will no longer be too big.

    by Lestatdelc on Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 02:37:32 AM PST

  •  Oil and gas cleaner than coal? (0+ / 0-)

    Is this true?  What are your sources for this?

    It's amazing what people will do to others in the name of themselves.

    by ABlueKansas on Tue Nov 20, 2012 at 08:00:23 AM PST

    •  Nearly everything is cleaner than coal (0+ / 0-)

      including nuclear.  We are putting our heads in the sand if we don't believe that any solution to wean us off of carbon-based fuels does not include nuclear.  To deny the need for nuclear is as counter-productive and anti-science as to deny the need for sustainability.  And,...this industry produces really good, high paying jobs - from the engineers down to the maintenance crews.    

      I support extracting all of the natural gas we can, until it can totally replace coal as an electricity generating fuel.  They've called my state, PA, the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, and this country has a lot of it.  This will be the bridge until we can convert our electrical grid to nuclear power, with some percentage of that grid powered by wind and hydro.  These are real practical energy sources that are currently powering major cities around the country.  They are expensive first cost, but have proven that they can be operated safely, and cleanly.  

      Solar has proven for decades that it's just not feasible on a large, economical scale.  It takes too much space for too little output.  And, you have to store everything in enormous, expensive and inefficient batteries.  Certain parts of the country/world get very little direct sunlight all winter.  I am an architect who has sat through countless presentations on solar panels.  They are a novelty not suited to powering a city or country (or even a big building economically).

      Biofuels are a gimmick that consumes more land and energy than they produce.

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