Earlier in the week, we found out that Obama will likely soon nominate Senator Max Baucus to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to China.
Baucus is currently the Chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller, the #2 on the Committee, is retiring next year. That would pave the way for Oregon's Ron Wyden to become the new Chair.
A game of musical chairs would follow. Since Ron Wyden currently holds the Chair in the Senate Energy Committee, that spot would then be open. South Dakota's Tim Johnson, the #2 on the Energy Committee, is retiring next year. That leaves Louisiana's Mary Landrieu next in line. A Landrieu Energy chair would be an environmentalist's nightmare--especially because she could end up holding it at least through the end of the decade, making any effort to address climate change through energy policy in Congress even more stillborn than it already is.
I wrote about this a few months ago in a diary entitled "Is Mary Landrieu (D-Oil and Gas) Next in Line for Energy Chair?". I am republishing that below, and I'll add a little bit more at the end.
Mary Landrieu, the Democratic senator from Louisiana, holds the honor of being the only Democratic senator with a lifetime League of Conservation Voters (LCV) score below 50%. She may even be the only Democrat in either House to have a lifetime LCV score below 50%; anti-environment Democrats like John Barrow (GA-12), Mike McIntyre (NC-07), and Jim Matheson (UT-04) all manage to pass 50%.
Mary Landrieu has consistently been one of the top recipients of oil and gas money in the Senate. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, she is the third largest recipient of oil and gas contributions this election cycle--and the biggest Democratic recipient. During the 2008 election cycle, she was the top congressional recipient of contributions from BP and expressed no intention of returning said contributions after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
"Campaign contributions, from energy companies or from environmental groups, have absolutely no impact on Sen. Landrieu's policy agenda or her response to this unprecedented disaster in the Gulf," Saunders wrote. "The Senator is proud of the broad coalition she's built since her first day in the Senate to address the energy and environmental challenges in Louisiana and in the nation. This disaster only makes the effort to promote and save Louisiana's coast all that more important."Campaign contributions have no impact on her policy agenda? Yeah, sure.
She is currently among the top 10 congressional recipients of money from the fracking industry--and the only Democrat to make the list. What an honor!
I searched her website for discussion of climate change, an issue with which all senators should be concerned--especially senators on the Energy Committee. The only statement I found was one criticizing the President's climate plan for being too hard on fossil fuel industries:
"The President and I have very different views on how to tackle the challenges of climate change. We both want to protect the environment, but I believe that overzealous regulations are harmful to our economy.This, of course, fits with Senator Landrieu's "Energy Security" page, which reads as a paean to oil and gas.
"I wish the President today would have instead approved the Keystone Pipeline to create new jobs here at home. And any call to single out the energy industry, including oil and gas, for increased taxes is unwise and counterproductive to economic growth. We should be encouraged that America's emission of CO2 has declined to its lowest level in two decades, and emissions have fallen 13 percent in the last five years alone.
The page begins,
Energy security is paramount to America’s economic health and to our national security. If the U.S. is to become more energy independent and more energy secure, we must aggressively develop our domestic resources, including oil, gas, nuclear, and coal. However, we must also invest heavily in new technologies, alternative fuels, and in efficiency measures at the same time.She never elaborates on the "new technologies," "alternative fuels," and "efficiency measures" she claims to support. They are simply not important enough to her. It is also unclear whether "new technologies" doesn't just refer to carbon capture and sequestration (part of the chimera of clean coal) and whether "alternative fuels" doesn't just refer to biofuels like ethanol.
Her first section is an endorsement of offshore oil drilling and a marked failure to learn from the BP oil spill.
Returning our Gulf to workHer second section deals with the allocation of revenues from offshore drilling, which, again, she praises:
Following the Deepwater Horizon Spill, the issuance of permits for new offshore drilling has been painfully slow, and continues to lag behind pre-spill levels. Senator Landrieu is a strong proponent of increasing domestic energy production and is working to reverse this trend. The Senator has pushed for a more efficient permitting process; an essential step in allowing companies to return to their pre-spill levels of productivity. Senator Landrieu strongly opposed the 6-month moratorium on deepwater drilling and defacto moratorium on shallow water drilling imposed April 2010. She successfully fought for it to be lifted two months early.
She continues to fight for a clear, understandable set of regulations which will clear the current backlog of drilling permits and allow responsible operators to begin new exploration. This will protect thousands of jobs in our state which depend on the offshore oil and gas industry, and will help to ensure the energy security of our nation.
This return to productivity is vital not only for the future energy security of our nation, but also for the more than 300,000 Louisianians employed, directly and indirectly, by the oil and gas industry. In December of 2011, the Senator successfully blocked legislative language in the bill funding the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) that would have further slowed the permitting process, and has made clear her expectation that the prompt consideration of permits should be among the agency’s key priorities.
A Fair Share for LouisianaLast--but certainly not least--comes a paean to natural gas. Landrieu, as she proudly points out, is a founding member of the Natural Gas Caucus.
Louisiana is a recognized leader in domestic oil and gas production. The Gulf Coast produces more than a quarter of the Nation’s domestic oil and natural gas. Seventy six percent of America’s offshore energy production takes place directly off of Louisiana’s coast. For more than 50 years, oil companies produced that oil and gas and sent billions of dollars in royalties to the Federal government—but none to Louisiana, even though our coastal marshlands bore the brunt of the impacts. Thanks to Senator Landrieu’s leadership, Louisiana will receive a fair share of the revenues derived from these precious mineral resources.
In 2006 Senator Landrieu worked with then-Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., to pass the Domenici-Landrieu Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA). For the first time, this law secured a fair share of offshore oil and gas revenues for Louisiana. This independent revenue stream is expected to provide Louisiana billions of additional dollars in coming decades for flood protection and coastal restoration projects. Phase one of GOMESA brought more than $6 million into Louisiana for 2009 alone. Phase two will bring in ever increasing amounts beginning in 2017. It also provides significant funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which funds the creation of parks and outdoor recreation areas across the country.
The Domenici-Landrieu Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act will serve as a template for similar measures around the country – and that will enhance U.S. energy security. Senator Landrieu believes that a system that shares the benefits of offshore drilling with the coastal states will foster more domestic energy production while helping to restore coastal areas around the country.
Natural GasHer only mention of wind and solar is derisive: "The natural gas industry currently directly employs 1.3 million people; more than the coal, wind, solar, or nuclear industries." She has nothing positive to say about either.
In 2009, Senator Landrieu started the Senate Natural Gas Caucus with Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-GA. This bipartisan group of Senators works to better understand the role of natural gas in producing clean, affordable and secure American energy.
Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel and is a plentiful resource in the United States. Louisiana is home to the Haynesville Shale, a massive deposit that industry experts estimate contains between 7.5 trillion and 20 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The Haynesville Shale has played a key role in the rapid expansion of natural gas production in the United States, an expansion that could see the U.S. potentially become a net exporter of natural gas.
Senator Landrieu recognizes that an increase in natural gas production will benefit the economy. The natural gas industry currently directly employs 1.3 million people; more than the coal, wind, solar, or nuclear industries. The United States used $154 billion worth of natural gas in 2010 and increased domestic production will allow American companies to harness this demand to create even more jobs, benefitting our state and national economy. Senator Landrieu knows that when we produce oil and natural gas in America, we produce jobs in America.
A recent article in Foreign Policy ("Energy Boost") highlights a major contrast between Wyden and Landrieu on energy policy: their approaches to natural gas and crude oil exports.
Drilling for both oil and gas has increased significantly over the past few years, which President Obama always likes to tout as an accomplishment--despite the dissonance with his assertions about the need to act on climate.
With this increased production comes export opportunities. I wrote the other day about how USTR Michael Froman is trying to weaken EU environmental standards to get them to accept North American tar sands oil.
Currently, almost 30 export terminal projects for LNG (liquefied natural gas) are awaiting government approval. Their expansion would further increase fracking for oil and gas--increasing carbon emissions and putting more ecologically sensitive land at risk. Life cycle analyses of LNG have also shown it to be as dirty as coal.
Wyden views such expansion with skepticism whereas Landrieu, unsurprisingly, is a big booster of it and views increased drilling as a positive.
Just a few years ago, coastal communities were building terminals to import natural gas from overseas producers; now, thanks to the shale boom unleashed by hydraulic fracturing, the United States is the world's largest producer of natural gas, and almost 30 projects that would build terminals to liquefy natural gas and ship it to needy customers in Europe and Asia are waiting for government approval.The possibility that Landrieu doesn't become Chair still exists. For one, elevating the next in rank is a norm, not a rule, and Obama might put pressure on Reid not to give Landrieu chair because of her vocal criticism of his (still very tepid) climate agenda. Possibly as well, Mary Landrieu could decide to give up the opportunity to chair the Energy Committee and keep her chair position in the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, but that would be unlikely. If she did, Washington's Maria Cantwell, a much better friend to the environment (and to future generations), would be next in line for chair. But I'm not getting my hopes up.
Wyden has long advocated a go-slow approach to gas exports. While he's never expressed outright opposition to the idea, he urged the Obama administration to carefully consider how exports could affect domestic prices for gas, and how that might hurt consumers and businesses that have greatly benefitted from cheap and plentiful gas.
For instance, after the Department of Energy gave its fifth conditional green light for exports in November, Wyden urged Washington to tread gently with the remaining applications. "It is imperative these potential exports not have a significant impact on domestic prices for families and manufacturers, and in turn harm America's energy security, growth and employment," he said.
Landrieu, by contrast, supports greater U.S. exports of natural gas, and has called for Washington to let the market decide how many terminals get built, and when. Representing a state that has both gas producers, who generally favor exports, and big gas consumers, who above all else want cheap gas, Landrieu says she understands both sides of the issue.
Much of the sound and fury over potential gas exports hinges on what they will do to domestic prices; high-profile opponents of unfettered exports worry that they'll strangle the golden goose of cheap gas that has underpinned a manufacturing revival in the United States.
But Landrieu argues that what will actually hurt the gas industry are sustained low prices, since many producers will be in the red. A guaranteed export market, she argues, will stimulate even greater U.S. gas production.
8:27 AM PT: I just did a bit of research and found that Committee chairs have to be elected. I wonder whether energy progressives like Sanders, Schatz, and practically everyone but Landrieu and Manchin on the Dem side of the committee, would be willing to vote for Landrieu or not.